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Ardern Needs to do More Than Manage Crisis

Written By: - Date published: 2:23 pm, August 25th, 2021 - 24 comments
Categories: australian politics, covid-19, economy, jacinda ardern - Tags:

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.

Others have.

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?

24 comments on “Ardern Needs to do More Than Manage Crisis ”

  1. mickysavage 1

    I mostly agree with Ad but occasionally do not but he does forcefully argue his point as in this post. My personal view is that we still do not understand the complexity of what we are dealing with and to announce plans while still trying to deal with a crisis is premature.

    • Ad 1.1

      You are a scholar and a gentleman.

    • Treetop 1.2

      Sticking to the current course is wise. Any mentioning of a change in direction could confuse some people and this could cause people to not be as committed to following the lockdown rules.

      This lockdown is buying time for people to get vaccinated to avoid the health system not coping.

    • Ad 2.1

      Good and relevant links thankyou.

    • Patricia Bremner 2.2

      Thanks Rob, says it all really. Ad you are a great "Devil's Advocate" and stop us from navel gazing. The truth is our PM and her cabinet have seen us safely through many a crisis, and still plotted a path. It is early days in this one, come back in 3 weeks time and ask those questions.

  2. newsense 3

    We’re being attacked, as always, like clockwork, as a distraction from the Liberal party f&&ing up.

    If ScoMos Liberal buddy in NSW had locked down hard and early and eliminated, we’d be hearing how great we are and the opening of the trans Tasman bubble.
    It is nothing to do with any longstanding principle or health reason. They have to attack us to cover their f**^#^ up.

    • McFlock 3.1

      Not only would we be reopening the bubble, but there'd be no delta in NZ and family in Melbourne probably wouldn't still be in lockdown.

  3. newsense 4

    Tried to edit twice, but it didn’t save.

    The UK is still seeing 100 plus COVID related deaths a day.
    A wait and see approach is still perfectly valid when you see that we don’t understand the limits of vaccine coverage life, what other countries will or can do and the possibility of other variants on top of this extremely transmissible one.
    You can start planning and getting ready, but if we don’t know the parameters, what the rules of the game will be, and delta has already changed them, we can’t make any clear assumptions about safe ways to re-open former industries.
    Scomo’s 70% is apparently based on stats that don’t fully account for the delta virus: ie hokkum.

  4. newsense 5

    Be clear- like Sweden at the start, the costs are deaths, if we get anything wrong. I mean many countries, including us, are happy to do that- OxyContin addiction, wars, health and safety etc, but Kiwis have shown little appetite for that blithely sacrificing other people that other brave leaders are doing.

    The trend on deaths in the UK is a clear increase in the last month. 600 this week, 500 last week and 400 the week before.

  5. Incognito 6

    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.

    Except that’s not what the modeller said and neither are modellers making ‘the calls’. Do you like setting fire to strawmen?

    With 62 news cases today the cluster has grown to 210 cases already. Luckily, nobody in ICU.

  6. pat 7

    Demanding the PM makes predictions, particularly without sufficient information says more about you than it says a bout her…..fools jump in where angels are wise enough not to tread….and patience is not only a virtue, but also sensible (though like wisdom not very prevalent)

  7. Sans Cle 8

    There are people who are alive today in New Zealand, who would not be alive if NZ had steered a different course. Yes, people are adapting to living with Covid elsewhere. NZ is coming from a different place, and have not experienced societal trauma as other countries have. So medium term planning, and building hope into society is not something that Ardern "should" necessarily be doing. It's a different starting point, and Covid is not winning in NZ yet. Give lockdown time to work.

  8. John Chapman 9

    70-80% vaccinated isn't going to give us herd immunity it needs to be more like 90% or we'll not only need more ICU's but morgue space.

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