We are getting near the pointy edge of our collective Covid response.
Elimination was great. Unlike just about every other nation in the world Aotearoan citizens avoided widespread death and could do pretty well whatever we pleased for a long period of time.
Then Delta hit.
This commentary from David Skegg in the Herald summed what had happened well:
He has been warning to expect, and prepare for, a Delta outbreak since well before this one started.
“Whereas we had been lucky after several previous incursions of SARS-CoV-2, our luck ran out this time,” he said.
The virus had a head-start because vaccination coverage was low, about 1000 people had already caught it by the time it was detected, and the outbreak had a springboard in the super-spreading church event in South Auckland.
“Finally, the outbreak got established among people who were living in marginalised sections of the community, including the homeless and those in transitional housing, as well as gangs, and this has made case identification and contact tracing very difficult,” he said.
“New Zealand is paying the price for allowing such a big gap to develop, over several decades, between the rich and poor in our society. Infectious diseases typically spread most rapidly among the poor and marginalised, including people in crowded housing.
“These people suffer the most, but the whole community is worse off as well.”
The vaccination roll out continues to gather momentum. New Zealand is now in the upper half of vaccination rates in the OECD and with a number of second vaccinations to still be administered should eventually be very highly ranked.
But every percentage point the vaccination rate is increased could save hundreds if not thousands of lives each year and potentially save our health system from being overwhelmed.
This is why collateral public health measures are so important. Every additional protective measure will drive down the spread of the virus and save lives.
Yesterday the Government announced vaccine mandates, requiring all employees in restaurants, gyms and hairdressers to be vaccinated within a period of time.
From Jordan Bond at RNZ:
No jab, no job policies are ramping up in their reach across the country.
Under incoming laws, any business that will require a vaccine certificate for customers must also have fully vaccinated workers. This includes cafes, restaurants, gatherings including churches, events, gyms and hairdressers, and other close contact businesses.
This is about 25 percent of the country’s entire workforce, Workplace Minister Michael Wood said. This was in addition to another 15 percent who are already or will be soon required to be jabbed, including teachers, some health staff and border workers. The government estimates this will be about 40 percent of the entire workforce.
Employees that refuse to get vaccinated can legally be shown the door after a four week paid notice period.
Some business owners are breathing a sigh of relief, happy the legal question has been taken out of their hands, and the employment law risk enforcing their own mandate could carry.
My personal view is that the steps are warranted. In the middle of a global pandemic that has caused millions of deaths strong public health measures are vital and people in public facing positions should do their best to minimise the virus’s spread.
Politicians should also play their part. Thames Coromandel Mayor Sandra Goudie and Auckland Councillor Tracy Mulholland have both fudged their response to questions on if they are vaccinated. I get the feeling that a refusal to do what Jacinda has asked them
There are claims that people are being villified. But this is not accurate. The measure is to drive and incentivise vaccinations as well as reduce the spread of the virus.
Broadly there are three groups of unvaccinated people:
Group one need our help, group two need our compassion and group three deserve our disdain.
The opposition is again all over the place on the issue with Judith Collins supporting employers imposing a mandate but opposing the Government doing it. Employers will be scratching their heads. They need the certainty of a central mandate to minimise their legal risk.
She also wants the mandate dropped once the country reaches a 90% vaccination rate. This is crazy. We do not know what the situation will be at that time. As shown by Japan’s response which has recently dramatically reduced new covid cases it is a combination of responses that is important. Vaccinations by themselves will not suffice and we may need to draw on multiple responses to suppress the spread of the virus.
The best response is to keep measuring and keep adjusting not do as the United Kingdom has done and announce freedom day and then blunder on oblivious to an increasing death rate.
The measure is extraordinary. And so is the threat. The potential loss of thousands of lives in my view justifies measures that in more normal times would be considered to be extreme.