What else will go?

23/04/2020

Covid-19 has claimed another victim:

Pharmac has frozen plans to fund a lung cancer drug that would have helped at least 1400 patients a year, saying it can no longer afford to make the investment.

The move has dashed hopes that Keytruda would soon be publicly funded for lung cancer – New Zealand’s biggest cancer killer. . .

What will follow?

Other drugs, other treatments, more research.

Health received $19.871 billion in the 2019/20 Budget. More than $9 billion has already been spent on wage subsidies as part of the response to the Covid-19 lockdown.

That’s a big hole to fill and it won’t just be health that gets less.

What was expected to be a vote-buying spend-up Budget next month will be much, much more restrained.

We’re told that most people support the lockdown, but how many understand the full costs, and not just in money but in businesses, livelihoods and lives?

How many would have been at least as supportive of a response that safe-guarded people from the rampant spread of Covid-19 while letting more businesses operate?

The insistence on using the arbitrary view of what’s essential rather than what’s safe has increased the economic and social costs of the lockdown while doing nothing at all to make it more effective.

I got an email last week telling me I could buy text books and any children’s reading material from Dunedin’s University Book Shop but I couldn’t get adult novels until after the lockdown was eased.

How could delivering an adult novel be any more risky than the other books deemed essential?

A friend needed a merino t-shirt as the one she uses for her daily walks is falling to bits. She went on line and found she could buy long-sleeved merino garments but not t-shirts.

Why is a t-shirt not essential when something with longer sleeves is, and how much more risk is there in packing, dispatching and delivering a t-shirt than in doing it for something with long sleeves?

Another friend’s elderly mother has her lawns mown by a man who brings his own mower.

Providing he stayed outside and kept at least two metres from her, how is that any more risky than her grandson coming with his mower, and keeping a safe distance, to cut her lawn?

There are very small examples, there are plenty more much bigger ones of constraints on commerce that should not have been imposed.

Health and safety in employment law is rigorous at the best of times, its requirements should be fit for the purpose of safeguarding employees and customers in these worst of times.

Had businesses which could have operated safely been able to do so the government would be spending less on welfare, staff subsidies and business support.

These businesses, and their employees, would be then be contributing to public coffers through tax, rather than taking from them.

That would have gone someway to reducing the cost of the lockdown and contributing to a swifter recovery.

It might not have been enough to save Pharmac from reversing its decision to fund Keytruda for lung cancer, but it would have made the difference between life and death for some businesses and the livelihoods of their staff.


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