For a country that has sought to form advantage for itself with strong and hard COVID-19 lockdowns, we’re not gaining any more advantage than yet another binge-purge cycle of supply tension and shortages, rapid economic downturn softened by tens of billions of subsidy, followed by unsustainable booms, over and over again.
The government has not outlined a plan of how New Zealand will operate as a society in the medium term. It’s time.
Eighteen months after the coronavirus first appeared, governments in Asia, Europe, and the Americas are encouraging people to resume their daily routines and adjust to a new normal in which subways, offices, restaurants, and airports are once again crowded. The mantra is becoming increasingly consistent: we must learn to live with the virus.
Europe has determined that tourists from Israel, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, among others, can already travel to many European countries. Since June 20, US citizens have also been able to do so again. More are being included weekly to this list.
The United Kingdom has removed almost all restrictions.
Singapore has already started bringing in people again, requiring proof of vaccine and to undergo a 1-2 day quarantine while they get a further test result back.
Australia is signalling the same thing. Scott Morrison is clear that Australia has to prepare soon for re-opening when it hits its vaccination targets. Recently he has criticised New Zealand for assuming that COVID-19 Delta variant is eradicable: “Any state or territory that thinks that somehow they can protect themselves from COVID with the Delta strain forever, that’s absurd. New Zealand can’t do that. They were following an elimination strategy. They’re in lockdown. The way through is to get those 70 percent and 80 percent marks (for vaccination) and open safely.”
Prime Minister Ardern in response stuck to her full elimination guns.
Prime Minister Morrison is making a forceful message about the path out of lockdown and toward normal life. He’s sure of this pledge even as Australia is posting high infection numbers.
He isn’t proposing a great big fat Australian “freedom day” like Boris Johnson did when all restrictions were removed at once.
But his simple, compelling gesture is to assure citizens that there is a path out of this, and he’s the one to form that path and lead Australia out of it. History is littered with virtuous leaders in a crisis who were turfed out when sanity resumed when they could not lay out what a believable future looked like.
It’s a pretty simple maxim in leadership that goes like this: Here is the horizon: we will know when we get there, and: it will be a much better place than here.
That’s more useful than the 100% Pure maxim, whiich to New Zealand is actually a sicker and more damaging virus than COVID.
Australian states that are still in trouble are reacting differently. ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has called for a nationally agreed vaccination target to be expanded to include 12-15 year olds. Western Australian and Queensland are threatening to chart their own paths even once targets are reached. New South Wales is a mess.
Similarly Auckland is about to be segregated from the rest of New Zealand. And, as expected, all the District Health Boards are having wildly different vaccination success rates.
New Zealand is just going to get even more fed up with Auckland if it continues to be an infection source. So we are facing the same tensions between region and nation as Australia.
But Australia’s leadership is already reaching beyond the infection horizon and New Zealand’s is not.
Already the modellers who thought this recent outbreak was heading for 1,000 are looking wrong.
The ultimate call must be for political leaders, not modellers. Morrison has made it clear: things will change at 70% done. At 80% vaccinated population lockdowns would only be used in “highly targeted” situations and Australia would start to reopen to the world.
Our own Prime Minister, regrettably, is not even at a point where she can see the edges or extent of the current outbreak, let alone define what level of national vaccination would enable greater freedom to return to our lives. It’s time she said what success would look like.
Prime Minister Ardern’s own advice from Professor Skegg last week says that the elimination strategy – stamping on outbreaks har and early when they occur – is still achievable but should only be pursued for as long as the benefits outweigh the costs. That’s a pretty important proviso. Once the population is as well-vaccinated as it can be from the current rollout, the cost-benefit equation that Prime Minister Morrison has calculated will also apply here. Again, the Prime Minister should state clearly what that success would look like. We need a horizon to this and only the state can deliver that.
The countries of the world with whom we need to travel and trade are increasingly opening up, managing the outbreaks as they come, and generating successful border control instruments that are far faster than 2 weeks in quarantine.
We are not, though we may wish to think so, capable of existing for long as an isolated set of rocks in the middle of nowhere. The government has signalled that it is thinking about vaccine passports that would enable travel. They need to do a lot more than think, when there are plenty of operating models and technologies out there already.
The modern New Zealand is the one which needs foreign connection more than most other countries on earth – for family connection since over a million of our relatives live out there already, for inbound students and tourism, for business and trade connections, for export and import deliveries, for diplomacy, for sustaining all the networks that have propelled us to where we are. It’s the modern government that needs to sustain that. New Zealand is the essence of the benefactor of globalisation and that simply will increase not decrease.
Prime Minister Ardern, where is our horizon, what will it look like, and how will New Zealand be better than where we are now?