We were told to stay home in our bubbles and we did, even though we now know that the government wasn’t acting lawfully in ordering us to do so for the first nine days.
A Full Bench (three Judges) of the High Court has made a declaration that, for the 9 day period between 26 March and 3 April 2020, the Government’s requirement that New Zealanders stay at home and in their bubbles was justified, but unlawful. . .
The government, not surprisingly has seized on the word justified.
It should however be concentrating on unlawful so it learns from its mistake and doesn’t repeat it as it has repeated several other mistakes most glaring of which are those that led to most people working at the border where they could be exposed to Covid-19 not being tested for the disease.
When most of us did, and continue to do. what we are told to do to keep ourselves and others safe it is galling to be let down when those doing the telling aren’t doing all they should be doing.
New Zealanders did their part. We all did our part. We’re asking the Government, “Did you do your part?” We believed. We stayed at home. We did our best to keep our businesses running. We did our best to keep people’s jobs. People missed their operations, their diagnostic tests, their school exams. We all did our part. Has the Government done theirs?
You see, we believed we were all part of a team—a team of 5 million. Well, the team of 5 million turned up and on game day, the coach didn’t have the right gear. We all trained during the week. We all went to practice. We all understood the plan. On game day, the coach didn’t have the right gear and hadn’t started the clock. When we were told that Jet Park, our highest quarantine facility for positive cases, we were told all staff were being tested weekly—all staff were being tested weekly. Now we know they weren’t. Yet Ashley Bloomfield said he gave the Minister full and very regular updates on isolation testing. Who do we believe? . .
Who do we believe?
The big picture is one of a fiasco. Consider the following.
By common consent, the Covid-19 tracing app is a clunker. It seemed to work fine on my phone until several days ago, when it suddenly went into meltdown. After repeated attempts to re-activate it, I gave up.
The police checkpoints around Auckland are a joke, massively disrupting daily lives and economic activity for no apparent purpose. In one 24-hour period more than 50,000 vehicles were stopped but only 676 were turned back. That means people spent hours trapped in stationary cars and trucks for an almost negligible success rate against supposed rule-breakers.
Even worse, people with valid reasons for travelling – for example, trying to get to work or deliver essential goods – have reportedly been turned back or made to wait days for the required paperwork. Others, meanwhile, have been waved through. It all seems totally haphazard and arbitrary, with decisions made on the spot by officers who don’t seem to be working to any clear and consistent criteria. . .
Then there was the panicked decision – or at least it looked that way – to test 12,000 port workers and truck drivers within a time frame that was laughably unachievable (and perhaps just as well, since it would have caused more business chaos).
And once again, there were mixed messages about eligibility for testing – a problem that first became apparent when the country went into lockdown in March. The official message then was “test, test, test” – yet people seeking tests, including those showing Covid-19 symptoms, were repeatedly turned away. And it’s still happening.
Glaring discrepancies between what was being said at Beehive press conferences and what was actually happening “on the ground” have been a recurring feature throughout the coronavirus crisis. Many were highlighted by Newshub’s investigative reporter Michael Morrah. He revealed, for example, that nurses and health workers were said to have ample protective equipment when clearly they didn’t. Similarly, Morrah exposed a yawning credibility gap between what the government was saying about the availability of influenza vaccine and what was being reported by frustrated doctors and nurses.
Somewhere the truth was falling down a hole, but the public trusted in the assurances given by the prime minister and Ashley Bloomfield. Many will now be thinking that trust was misplaced.
The most abject cockup of all was the failure (again exposed by Morrah, though strangely not picked up by the wider media for several days) to test workers at the border. Former Health Minister David Clark told the public weeks ago that border workers, including susceptible people such as bus drivers ferrying inbound airline passengers to isolation hotels, would be routinely tested. This seemed an obvious and fundamental precaution, but we now know it didn’t happen. Nearly two thirds of border workers – the people most likely to contract and spread the coronavirus in the community – were never tested. Some epidemiologists believe the Covid-19 virus was bubbling away undetected for weeks before the current resurgence.
On one level this can be dismissed as simple incompetence, but it goes far beyond that. People might be willing to excuse incompetence up to a point, but they are not so ready – and neither should they be – to forgive spin, deception and dissembling. Misinformation can’t be blithely excused as a clumsy misstep, still less as “dissonance” (to use Bloomfield’s creative English). On the contrary, if misinformation is deliberate then it raises critical issues of trust and transparency.
At a time of crisis, people are entitled to expect their leaders and officials to be truthful with them, especially when the public, in turn, is expected to play its part by making substantial social and economic sacrifices. If the government doesn’t uphold its side of this compact, it forfeits the right to demand that the public co-operate. That’s the situation in which we now appear to find ourselves. The bond of trust that united the government and the public in the fight against Covid-19 has been frayed to a point where it’s at risk of breaking. . .
We’ve been asked to do a lot, to trust a lot and we’ve been let down.
That the government has drafted in Helen Clark’s former chief of staff Heather Simpson and NZTA chair Brian Roche to sort out the border is an admission of how badly mismanaged it’s been.
Theirs is no easy task and while it won’t be one of their KPIs, helping the government win back trust will be part of it.