Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern claimed yesterday that a very high vaccination rate in New Zealand would represent a “golden ticket” and make level 4 lockdowns redundant. What could that mean that’s positive for New Zealand?
So if we peek over the horizon to January 2022, what might a very high rate of vaccination mean?
Getting to 85% vaccinated would be possible if the 5-12 year olds can get it. That puts it in the well-oiled public health machinery of primary and intermediate schools.
It is a range that puts us in the rarefied company of such countries as Portugal, Singapore, Iceland, Denmark, and Qatar.
It is yet another competitive differentiator away from Australia.
Australia is in the category of “needs to take action”, as distinct from New Zealand’s “Countries Beating Covid-19”.
By February 2021 Australia’s ABC News could see the differentiators.
For Vietnam it was a low-tech hard and fast response.
For Taiwan, extensive public health infrastructure and experience with SARS.
For Thailand, an army of volunteers.
For Cyprus, border controls and lockdowns.
For Rwanda, public trust in the public health system.
For Iceland, sophisticated and widespread testing.
As a distant and small country with few natural resources and a tiny population, we need as many advantages as fate throws our way.
Denmark and Singapore are small successful states that we often use as policy comparators.
Singapore’s Teo Yik Kang the Dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore, said in August 17th this year that “If countries start to move towards an endemic COVID-19 strategy, the expectation is that there will be more related death, although it is still unclear how many of these will be excess mortality and how many could have occurred regardless of COVID-19.” That requires citizens giving the government and the public health system the social license to treat a level of death and morbidity as a public health background noise similar to road deaths and annual colds.
Is New Zealand really ready for the kind of case number surges that have occurred in Singapore as a result of this public policy?
Denmark has vaccinated 84.5% with a double dose of Pfizer. They are a small country with a sophisticated agricultural base, a social democrat framework and very high trust in government.
More than 353,000 Danes have got infected so far and 2,614 have died of it.
To deal with Denmark’s consequences of re-opening up society and the relative huge surge in cases, Denmark has had to more than double New Zealand’s current intensive care per capita.
Our health system doesn’t have that capacity and would take far too long to get there.
The Danish approach probably wouldn’t work entirely.
Our severity of regulatory response is what we do instead of a first rate health system that could deal with it. We have the social cohesion and trust in government to do that, thankfully.
Neither Singapore nor Denmark have Maori and Pasifika populations that are hard to get to and low on vaccinations on average. New Zealand has that combination to itself.
Freedom of movement is the right we don’t want to lose again.
International travel tracing is well developed. It does appear that the digital passport for proof of disease-free status is on its way as it has been in Denmark.
Lots of countries are considering it for international travel, particularly using the International Air Transport Association (IATA) technology.
Cross-regional and cross-city tracing has a lot of potential if our transport operators can be forced to cooperate with the public health system. We need to move, but we also need to be safe.
Optimism that either Auckland Transport or NZTA will be able to integrate QR codes into regional or national ticketing systems is not high, given that NZTA have been working on that for well over a decade.
But as we found under Levels 3 and 4, because inter-regional travel is as problematic for COVID spread as international travel, personal tracing through mandatory identification as they already do for tolled roads or HOP CRD, Snapper Card, and SuperGold, is inevitable. It’s the new price of movement.
The Golden Ticket Ifs
if we can get an upgraded ICU health system to cope as Denmark and Singapore are having to, and if we can in fairly quick order unify our health system away from false regional boundaries, and if we can re-tool a health system in time to support Maori and Pasifika vaccination rates as they have over the last 6 months, and if we can get transport systems to identify personal movement or otherwise keep us safe, and if we can keep our social cohesion and live with a higher background rate of death and morbidity, then we can get freedom of movement back, and then we can live with COVID.
That’s a lot of probabilistic if’s with just three months before we put our “Golden Ticket” in the hands of 2022. And it is probably our only good path.