Losing patience

A Research New Zealand survey still shows strong support for lockdowns, but only until the vaccine target is reached:

Although people have found this lockdown harder than previous ones most are abiding by the restrictions. But the social licence is being strained and patience will run out if lockdowns continue to be imposed when most of us are vaccinated.

Patience is already stretched for people like Sir Ian Taylor who have practical ideas to solve the MIQ shambles:

MIQ is as big a threat to keeping their businesses operating as is COVID. These are the businesses whose taxes help fund the front-line workers battling to keep us safe on the ground, the government officials, and their advisers and, of course, all the politicians. They are also the businesses we will need to still be operating and growing when we finally settle on what “the new normal” is.

Word was that some of your officials have been working on a paper over the past few weeks to address the MIQ issue for business, but very few of us had any idea who those officials were or what they were planning. 

Over the past week, The Bench has been working on a more immediate plan we’d like to share with you to go alongside the work your officials are doing.

We all agreed that we need to work together and do it with complete transparency rather than behind closed doors. This way everyone would learn about some of the tools and processes already being used by businesses, here and overseas, to keep their people, and their jobs, safe.

Tools and processes that have proved to be successful.

Did you know there was a company in Dunedin that has driven a multi-million dollar programme that has resulted in a portable COVID rapid testing device that can give you a PCR result in 25 minutes?

Or another New Zealand company that can retrofit your air conditioning that will kill 99.9% of all pathogens in the room – including COVID. And then there are the companies that are already using rapid testing to test all their staff each day, so they have early warnings of a potential outbreak. Or the device that you can wear on your arm, like an iPhone, to detect the earliest symptoms of COVID.

All these companies have stepped up but very few knew what the others were doing. What they all had in common was they weren’t able to get through to you with what they had to offer.

So, here’s our idea – which we will conduct out in the open so others can contribute as we progress. It will not cost the government a cent, but we may need you to make a call to Australia because the plan is for me to make a business trip to Sydney in the next couple of weeks.

I asked around work who was best to do this – everyone agreed that everything worked better when I was out of the office, so it’s me. Like everyone in our company, I am vaccinated.

Although I am in a city that hasn’t had a Covid case for over a year, we will treat this test as though I was in Auckland.

For seven days prior to departure, I will live under Level 3 constraints, and I will be rapid tested every day. On days 1 and 5, I will be PCR tested as well. One of New Zealand’s major companies that is rapid testing its own staff each day has agreed to provide the expertise I need for the rapid testing. I will also test the PCR mobile device during this period.

I will fly to Sydney where I will be antigen tested on landing and met by a fully vaccinated driver. A major hotel brand has agreed to be part of this trial, subject to gaining the necessary approvals from the NSW government. This is where your phone call could help, especially as I am coming from the COVID free South Island, there’s only one of me, and I will be tested every day.

The hotel chain provides quarantine facilities for a number of Australian state governments, but I will be taken to a non-Quarantine hotel and given a room in a separate wing away from other guests. They have a comprehensive plan around COVID safety and wellbeing and have previously used an alternative quarantine proposal which has been successfully applied to accommodate international sporting teams staying in their hotels, backed by a carefully followed 50-page COVID-safe plan. They will provide room service meals delivered by fully vaccinated staff wearing masks.

Once I have cleared the agreed quarantine period, even if it is two weeks, I will travel with the hotel driver to the FOX offices where they have a process of rapid testing for anyone entering the building, including staff.

On completion of my business there, I will fly back to Auckland where I will be PCR tested using the new portable device before flying to Dunedin where I will go into a private dwelling on my own. I will be PCR tested on my first day back and resume my daily testing until having a final PCR test at a time determined by your officials.

We will do all of this in full view of the public with daily reporting through The Herald.

We will also work with you to identify an independent audit company to oversee the process and we will provide them with the app we built for our staff working offshore. It’s called ResponseAbility. . . 

This is as near to free of any risk for spreading Covid-19 as it could be, short of not going at all. The risk to businesses, the wider economy and everything that depends on them from maintaining the fortress is far, far greater.

As John Key opines:

. . . In a crisis, humans can be creative and inventive. Faced with the growing acceptance that Covid-19 and its variants may be with us indefinitely, the New Zealand Government and public health officials, like Nasa in 1970, rapidly need to change their thinking to adapt to the new challenge.

The aim should no longer be to exist in a smug hermit kingdom, but to get back to a life where New Zealanders can travel overseas – for any reason – knowing they can return home when they want to, and where we again welcome visitors to this country.

These are not radical aims, yet there has been no coherent plan shared with the public for when or how these might be achieved. The only urgency we’ve seen for months is an enthusiasm to lock down our country, lock up our people and lock out our citizens who are overseas.

Some people might like to continue the North Korean option. I am not one of them. Public health experts and politicians have done a good job of making the public fearful, and therefore willing to accept multiple restrictions on their civil liberties which are disproportionate to the risk of them contracting Covid.

As more and more of us are vaccinated the risk gets lower.

Another problem with the hermit kingdom model is that you have to believe the Government can go on borrowing a billion dollars every week to disguise that we are no longer making our way in the world.

You also have to ignore the deafening voices of tens of thousands of New Zealanders who are having their citizenship compromised by being stranded overseas. A very few of them manage to get back when public servants in Wellington decide whose plight is desperate enough to be rewarded with a golden ticket to MIQ. How is it that bureaucrats are deciding who gets to come home, while pretending the rest have been on an extended overseas shopping trip so deserve nothing more than being left to the mercy of a lottery?

A lottery is not a public policy. It’s a national embarrassment. Whether you get to see your grandchild, or your dying mother, or your sister’s wedding, depends on whether or not your number comes up. This is a lottery that is gambling with people’s families and futures.

MIQ has turned into MIQueue with facilities unable to cope with fewer people needing and wanting to come in.

Meanwhile, those brave New Zealanders who have started or bought a small business are sleepless with worry – as are their workers – because lockdowns are an indiscriminate tool that stops commerce as effectively as it stops Covid. The true harm is being concealed by an economy propped up by borrowing.

Too often, I hear commentators supporting the North Korean option because they claim that opening up to the rest of the world will introduce the virus, and therefore cost people their lives.

International evidence does not support that claim. If you are vaccinated, your chances of being hospitalised or dying from Covid are slim.

There is an argument that the Government should mandate vaccination, but no country has done this, and neither will ours. Every day in New Zealand people die of smoking-related cancer or other conditions in which lifestyles have played a part. We each make our choices and live with the consequences.

I support the need for people whose work puts them at greatest risk of contracting Covid-19 having to be vaccinated but no democratic government should mandate vaccination for everyone.

However, more could and should be done to get to those people who could and would be vaccinated and have not yet been.

But here’s a plan that might work:

1. Give Māori and Pacific health providers a financial incentive for every person they get vaccinated in the next six weeks.

2. Give every person aged between 12-29 a $25 voucher of their choice if they get vaccinated before December 1.

3. Allow only vaccinated people into licensed premises (and maybe park the Shot Bro bus outside a few nightclubs as an incentive).

4. Tell New Zealanders when borders will reopen. It might incentivise more people to get jabbed.

5. Stop ruling by fear. Instead, reassure people that living with the virus is possible, as long as you’re vaccinated. Take positive actions like funding Pharmac to invest in therapies proven to help fight the virus, build up our hospital capacity and workforce, use saliva testing for Covid, subsidise home-testing kits for Covid and order booster shots now.

The final part of the plan is to open the borders, soon.

MIQ, as our sole quarantine response, is inadequate. Home quarantine should begin immediately.

The South Australian trial already requires those in home MIQ to leave their phone on 24 hours a day and to agree to using face recognition and GPS technology so they can be monitored.

We could throw in the kicker that if you break quarantine you get a $20,000 fine, and time in the clanger.

Additionally, as Act leader David Seymour has been advocating, we need privately-run and purpose-built short-term MIQ facilities for workers and, in time, for tourists.

This is by no means a complete list of what’s possible. It’s simply a few ways to encourage vaccination and to allow New Zealand to rejoin the world that is opening up without us.

For those who say it’s too hard, or too risky, I ask this: one day, when the largest part of the Minister of Finance’s Budget pays only the interest on the debt we are racking up now, and you can’t have the latest cancer drugs, or more police, because New Zealand can’t afford them, what will you think?

Will you wish that in 2021 the Government had acted with the urgency and creativity that Nasa showed when suddenly having to rethink its approach to the Apollo 13 mission? Nasa succeeded. It proved that to get a different outcome, you need a different strategy.

The government has argued that a health approach to Covid-19 is an economic one. They don’t seem to understand that an economic one is also a health one.

We can’t live forever on borrowed money. It will have to be paid back with interest and paying back that money leaves less for other spending.

Every new business that doesn’t open, every existing business that falters or fails, every business that doesn’t thrive not only makes repaying the debt harder, it frays the economic and social fabric of the country.

In doing so it reduces the ability to fund essential infrastructure and services, one important part of which is the health system that is already severely strained.

The fearful respond to pleas for a plan to open the borders by asking how many people do you want to die of Covid-19?

The obvious response is none but the questioners ignore the toll that lockdowns take and that people have already died and will continue to die of physical and mental illnesses not treated in time as a result of lockdowns.

If only the government would listen to suggestions from the two knights and others like their business advisor Rob Fyfe who is frustrated by the lack of progress:

Fyfe said we currently have a system that was never designed to manage a long-running crisis like this.

“[It] has got so buried in trying to solve the day-to-day issues and so worn out from doing that they just can’t step back and figure out actually how do we involve everyone that has got something to contribute here.

“There are some bloody good ideas and a lot of energy out there that is being underutilised at the moment.” . .

Ideas like those of the proposed by Sir Ian and Sir John, ideas that would help us all if only the government was open to them.

2 Responses to Losing patience

  1. Andrei says:

    This is a level of collective insanity beyond comprehension

    We have spent the last 20 months obsessing over a virus, just one respiratory virus out well over 1000 known respiratory viruses and lost sight of everything else

    How many people in New Zealand have actually died of the Deadly Delta Variant?

    I will tell you how many

    One, just one elderly lady in her nineties

    One out of nearly 1200 identified cases, many, probably most of whom were barely aware they had the “disease” and one elderly lady has died

    And this justifies everybody putting their lives on hold for nineteen months now and counting?

    While the ruling class a wallowing about like pigs in the proverbial c.f. James Shaw’s junket with eight senior civil servants to some climate change talkfest the “inessential” can’t even earn their fricken living and their kids can’t go to school or play in the playground?

    I’ll tell you something – no matter how many New Zealanders they jibbity jab with their army of PPE clad needlers life in Aotearoa aint going back to “normal™” anytime in the foreseeable future

    Because while babble from the Podium of Truth is keeping our attention firmly focussed “fighting the virus” our third biggest FX earner, foreign tourism, has totally collapsed and is not going to recover anytime soon and without that foreign exchange how are we actually paying for all these “doses” of the vaccine let alone all the other commodities we import to maintain a “normal” life?


  2. adamsmith1922 says:

    Reblogged this on The Inquiring Mind.


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