Newshub’s Covid 19 timeline gives the lie to the government’s claim of going hard and early:
. . . January 6: Newshub first reports on the “mystery virus”, when there had been just 59 cases reported. . .
A long list of warning signs and straight warnings from medical experts follows until:
March 26: New Zealand goes into a nationwide lockdown to stop the spread of the virus, closing most businesses, schools and workplaces. Seventy-eight new cases are confirmed. Lots of people arriving in the country have no plans to isolate. . .
The timeline shows that rather than hard and early, the government was lax and late.
Does that matter when Covid-19 has, largely, been stopped at the border and life is as near to normal as it could be with the borders still closed?
If it was only a political slogan it wouldn’t matter.
But if the government believes its own rhetoric and doesn’t accept that it was lax and late and then harsh it does matter.
That would mean it hasn’t learned from its mistakes and the report on our Covid-19 response by Heather Simpson and Brian Roche that was released after parliament rose for the year, showed plenty of mistakes and lessons which need to be learned.
One mistake the report didn’t address was that the lockdown was more than hard, it was harsh. Using the arbitrary essential to determine which businesses could operate rather than allowing those that could operate safely to do so.
That distinction did a lot more damage to too many businesses at a high human and financial cost.
Another problem with harsh rather than hard was delays to diagnosis and treatment of other health problems.
Closing all hospitals to all but those in dire need could have been excused at first. There was no rule book and overseas experience showed the very real risk of hospitals becoming overrun.
However, once it was obvious that case numbers had peaked and were declining with no untoward pressure on the health system, why couldn’t some hospitals have been directed to deal with Covid-19 cases and the others left to treat other patients?
I know of two people whose diagnosis of cancer wasn’t made because their symptoms weren’t considered urgent enough for appointments during the lockdown and who later died. It is possible that might have been the outcome even had they been diagnosed earlier, but whether or not that was the case for them, delayed diagnosis for a variety of ailments will have led to worse outcomes in terms of both quality and length of lives.
One of those was a friend who broke her wrist just before lockdown. It was set in plaster but the cast was too loose. She wasn’t able to get a replacement during lockdown, endured months of pain and incapacity and finally had surgery in December when the wrist had to be rebroken. She is now now just halfway through 10 weeks in plaster.
Has the government learned from its mistakes?
The continuation of the arbitrary essential rather than safe for which businesses could operate and determination that hospitals were closed for all but absolute emergencies when Auckland went back into lockdown shows they hadn’t learned by then.
They say they’ve addressed, or are addressing, the issues raised in the Simpson Roche report that was completed after that. But have they?
We can be grateful that the lockdowns worked, that there is no community transmission of Covid-19 and we are able to live as normal lives as possible with the borders closed.
But that gratitude shouldn’t blind us to the fact that our freedom owes a lot to luck rather than good management.
With the new more virulent strain of the disease in MIQ at the border, it is even more important that the government ensures everything possible that can be done is being done to make sure it stays there.