- Date published:
7:00 am, April 27th, 2020 - 192 comments
Categories: climate change, covid-19, Economy, employment, Environment, human rights, International, jobs, surveillance, tourism, transport - Tags: contact tracing, freedom, invasion of privacy, overseas travel, pandemic, privacy under attack
Warning: this blog contains material that may offend Lefties and Greenies.
Thanks to a tiny little virus, the NZ economy is gasping for air. One of the hardest hit sectors is the tourism sector, international tourism, to be more specific, although domestic tourism is dead too now. This was a mega industry turning over billions of dollars each year that was growing rapidly and employing over 200,000 people.
Kiwis love to travel too. Last year there were more than 3 million New Zealand-resident traveller arrivals.
Nobody knows when our borders will open again and what travel and tourism will look like in the near future. I think I have seen some dire predictions that it could take 12-18 months before we return to normal, which is likely a new normal. What might this look like and how would it work?
In contrast to all those people and businesses that are directly and indirectly affected by turning off the tourism tap, there are some positives too. For example, pollution levels in major cities have dropped heaps due to the Level 4 lockdown keeping most of us at home in our bubbles and out of our cars. In addition, one of our single largest polluters has almost come to a complete standstill. Tourism spots that had come under enormous pressure because of the sheer number of tourists and were reaching breaking point, in one way or another, now have time to recover if not heal. Arguably, tourism was putting pressure on people, communities, and infrastructure. And on Nature, of course.
New Zealand will be an even more attractive tourism destination once the pandemic has been declared over. Thanks to a large dose of good luck, mixed with good leadership, management, and a high compliance rate among the population, the NZ COVID-19 stats have become the envy of many countries. If we do manage to completely eliminate the virus from NZ, international visitors will want to flock to this safe, clean, pure, and healthy (and healing) place. Many of us would welcome them with open arms and empty wallets as long as they don’t bring the virus with them!
So, it seems that one of the questions is how do we keep the virus out once we open the ajar to international travel again. It is hard to imagine that tourists would come if they were quarantined for 14 days upon arrival. Would the NZ Taxpayer have to pay for that? An Immunity Passport appears to be a no-go too.
Could a combination of antibody testing and testing for the presence of virus, i.e. the current gold standard for testing for infection, be sufficient to rule out if a person is a carrier and/or immune to COVID-19? If the test performance improves and the number of false negatives goes down, it might lower the risk of letting a carrier into the country by accident. For example, one day before departure, they take the test and if negative, they are allowed to board the plane to NZ. Upon arrival, they are tested again and maybe once every few days or once a week. This could work well if the test would be based on a saliva sample, for example, rather than the more invasive and technically more difficult nasal swap.
It would require many testing stations throughout the country but quite possibly existing medical labs & centres and GP practices could be involved. As long as the tests come back negative, they are free to go on their way, spend generously, and enjoy our wonderful country and people. Test data will be uploaded to their Health Status Passport. However, as soon as they test positive – the false positive rate is very low – they have to go immediately into full mandatory quarantine and this might include all their travel companions.
How would we do contact tracing? Here comes another tricky bit. Upon arrival in the country, each visitor is given an electronic device that they must wear all the time, day and night, e.g. an ankle bracelet. This will track their location in real time, 24/7. If they don’t comply with this and/or with the testing, they will be arrested and deported immediately, which could affect their chances of getting a VISA to NZ in future. Zero tolerance.
This kind of Draconian approach one would expect in totalitarian countries and one could argue that this is totally unacceptable and a breach of personal freedom, privacy, human rights, or what have you. Indeed, it might be but under exceptional circumstances, these kinds of measures not only are necessary, they also are accepted and tolerated. A recent poll revealed that 73% of adults would support Police and Health authorities using their personal mobile data to help track and trace those who have been in contact with COVID-19. Even though we are still in the midst of the pandemic, this still is surprisingly high. This could suggest that resistance against wearing a tracking device while on holiday here in NZ may not be as high as one would think. Even less so if it is to keep yourself and others safe and free from COVID-19.
The other aspect of contact tracing is, of course, being able to trace the Kiwis who have been in contact with a traveller who tested positive. I would like to think that the same reasoning could apply to them as well. Especially those who stand to gain from overseas visitors coming here and spending may be more inclined to play their part in setting up an effective and efficient contact tracing network. Whether this would rely on mobile phones, a CovidCard, manual tracing as we do now, or a combination of technologies is something that doesn’t seem to be an insurmountable hurdle. In any case, it would be good to have something in place and practiced for when the next pandemic knocks on our door.
None of the above may work or lower the risk enough to gain any traction. However, the number of cases worldwide will drop, testing will get better and faster, the urge to travel will increase, and the pressure to take the travel and tourism industry off life support at the Taxpayers’ expense will mount. In any case, it seems unlikely we will see the same number of arrivals as before, and maybe we don’t want to, but we Kiwis also want to be able to visit overseas relatives again and travel for work, et cetera. I don’t think we can afford to wait until global COVID-19 numbers have dropped to zero – it might never happen – or until they have developed an effective vaccine – that might never happen either.
I would like to see a discussion of these and other ideas beyond a rudimentary level of ‘this is stupid’, ‘it will never work’, or ‘tourism is bad for CC’, for example. That is not to say that we cannot or should not discuss how to do tourism and air-travel differently 😉