Aotearoa is in the midst of its second major Covid wave.
Numbers are regularly topping 10,000 new daily infections and pressure on the health system is mounting. Clearly a circuit breaker is needed.
Earlier this week Luxon was interviewed By Susie Ferguson on Morning Report about all things Covid.
He said that the world is moving on from Covid and that New Zealand needs to be much more ambitious and outward looking.
About mask wearing he was asked why he was not wearing a mask in Singapore.
He said that there were mask rules in Singapore, effectively some in the UK and none in Ireland.
He then said that in Singapore the rule was that you did not have to wear a mask if you were in a meeting where there was food and water. Susie Ferguson demurred and it appears that she is right. The rules say that mask wearing will continue to be required indoors and that workers are allowed to remove their masks at the workplace if they are not interacting physically with others and if they are not in customer-facing areas. Masks can be removed to eat but the rules clearly say that “you must immediately put your mask back on after eating, drinking or taking medication.”
Then on Friday Chris Bishop was interviewed by Radio New Zealand. He was asked:
Would you support tougher measures on masking, making it mandatory pretty much everywhere indoors?
And his response?
The mask rules are already pretty extensive. I was just checking the rules this morning. You have to wear them in supermarkets, in retail outlets, and a lot of indoor settings, and when I go out in Wellington you do see them wearing them into restaurants, cafes, bars, taking them off as they sit down to have a meal which I think is pragmatic as well.
But the rules are pretty extensive at the moment …
What I think Michael Baker is saying is that everyone has to wear them everywhere all the time and I think that is unrealistic.
There is a social license issue here in relation to mask wearing. I do encourage people to wear masks. I do wear one when I go out.
He then advocated for removal of the mandate that stops anti vax nurses from returning to work.
His comments basically back up Luxon’s comments although veering away from the suggestion that the mask rules are confusing.
The language adopted by Luxon and Bishop is typical opposition stuff. Attack the Government for something that it is doing and say it should be done differently. And it feeds into the great culture war the world has experienced about the state’s response to Covid. There are people out there who have been confused and sucked in by the anti science counter messages that have pervaded the Internet for far too long.
But here is the thing. Occasionally there are issues where opposition parties should put to one side their impulse to oppose and when something of major importance to the country requires a united front they should stand alongside the Government and support them, even if it costs political capital.
Jacinda Ardern spent significant political capital getting the population vaccinated. Christopher Luxon if he was a true leader should be championing the wearing of masks.
And you want to know why? The answer is in the body count.
New Zealand has still performed exceptionally well. Our death rate is about a tenth of the US rate and Australia’s death rate is 20% ahead of ours. Our rate is very similar to that of Taiwan who previously was regarded as the best performing western nation in terms of Covid.
But there are two western nations which are performing significantly better than us. Second is Singapore whose death rate is 80% of ours and who clearly has not moved on from Covid. And as can be seen they continue to abide by stringent mask wearing rules. And topping the list is Japan whose population’s long term commitment to the health of each other has made mask wearing an accepted cultural norm and who despite official requests to ease up still wear masks in situations where New Zealanders would not even think of doing so.
I am not going to give the Government a free ride on this. I think that the mask wearing rules should be strengthened. Particularly in secondary schools there should be a national mandate requiring masks to be worn inside.
Having the opposition bark continuously about all aspects of the Government’s Covid response clearly has caused Labour to continuously recalibrate. But this is one issue where the science is increasingly clear. Effective mask wearing will save lives and ease pressure on our health system.
If Luxon really was a leader he would for once put politics aside and support the strengthening of mask mandates. But he is not. So we will continue to have this extraordinarily weird debate at a time when people are dying because they and others were not masked properly.