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Dev Nadkarni

The government has squandered its globally envied Covid-free position that it prided itself with since its early success in ‘stamping out’ the pandemic last year. It has wasted valuable time sitting on its hands on a range of issues through the valuable six-month Covid-free window it had to prepare for Delta’s onslaught.

Soon after the considerably more infectious Delta strain began wreaking havoc in other parts of the world, we heard Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern say that it was a question of time when Delta would land on our shores.

Though having admitted it so early in the piece, her government did little to nothing in readying the administration to face the pesky variant that so many other countries were and are still struggling to control as can be seen across the ditch in NSW.

The government has dropped the ball on several fronts and allowed Delta to get the better of us solely due to a complete lack of forward planning and learning from last year’s mistakes.

The ongoing quarantine shambles has let Delta in

We have known since the very beginning that our sub-optimal MIQ quarantine system was indeed our Achille’s heel. All previous outbreaks have been traced to breaches in that system and it is no surprise that the current Delta outbreak also points to a breach at the downtown Crowne Plaza.

The current hotel quarantine system is not fit for purpose. For one, it is not designed to do this onerous job. It does not have the demanding ventilation systems that are required to keep the air infection free, especially when air is a known vector. Other countries have long realised this and are already constructing or have constructed purpose-built quarantine facilities.

When the question was raised during one of the 1pm pressers last year, Health Minister Chris Hipkins said the government was not considering purpose-built quarantine facilities because the present system was adequate and “by the time we build them we may not need them.”

Australia is well on its way in building dedicated quarantine facilities at least at a couple of locations and South Korea has them up and running close to international airports. In fact, they have moved health and medical staff to live close to these facilities to ring fence and contain any potential spread.

The NZ government has shown a complete lack of vision on the quarantine front and is limping from one disaster to another with inadequately trained staff drawn from the likes of the NZ Defence Forces.

The embarrassingly slow vaccine rollout has ensured long lockdowns

New Zealand has one of the lowest number of fully vaccinated people among its peer nations in the OECD. Canada has 66% of its population fully vaccinated, the UK 62%, the USA 51% and Australia 24%. Just 20% of Kiwis are fully vaccinated as of Monday 23 August, a figure that is even below the global average of 24.6%.

The onset of Delta has spurred on the vaccination rate with new drive through centres, pharmacies and general practices added to the rollout but this is far too late and is almost like scrambling to shut the barn doors after the horse has bolted.

From being at the very front of the vaccine queue, the government has managed to push the nation to the very back of it through a mix of misplaced altruism initially and incompetent handling of the situation partly due to leaving out a specialised agency like Pharmac in acquiring the vaccine, instead entrusting that crucial function to the gargantuan MBIE, which has had no experience in this whatsoever.

The government wasted the six-month lead time it had to vaccinate the majority of New Zealanders before Delta came crashing through our borders early this month. This is all the more surprising because the government has always championed its ‘elimination strategy’. It is almost as though vaccination of the majority of Kiwis wasn’t as important a part of this strategy as much as Level 4 lockdowns were.

By this time, most New Zealanders should have been vaccinated. If indeed that was the case, there probably would not have been a need for prolonged Level 4 lockdowns.

The Immigration mess keeps much needed hands out of work

Delta spreads rapidly and in a matter of a few days we’ve had nearly 500 locations of interest and rising, growing case numbers and some 20,000 people identified as close contacts and self-isolating ––to the point that several supermarkets have had to close because of lack of staff and/or for deep cleaning after being identified as locations of interest.

This has badly affected essential frontline services, something that could have been avoided if Immigration New Zealand had moved quickly to decide on the pending residency and work permit applications of legions of migrants who have been stuck in the country.

Many of these individuals were called to work as frontline staff during last year’s lockdowns only to be dumped into limbo once the lockdowns were gone. Several of these individuals have told Indian Weekender that they feel used and abused by the government’s lack of empathy to their plight.

Once again with the current lockdown, processing of applications has come to a grinding halt. Immigration New Zealand still uses a paper based system that needs physical handling of documents. With no access to offices, application processing cannot proceed and there will be more delays – all over again. The department has simply not upgraded its system during all this while.

Confusing policies, lack of transparency undermine public confidence

Butchers are not allowed to operate under Level 4 but liquor stores can. With many supermarkets having to close at short notice because of staff self-isolating or because they have been locations of interest, food shopping has become more inconvenient than in last year’s lockdown. In such a scenario it makes no sense to keep butchers closed.

Rise in domestic violence during lockdowns has been well documented since last year and the connection of liquor consumption to domestic violence is all too well known. Yet, liquor stores are allowed to operate as normal through all stages of the lockdown. Some online stores are also advertising contactless deliveries in level 4. One wonders how the over-18 is implemented in such a scenario.

The government is yet to articulate its strategy to lead this country out of the pandemic. Other western countries have already said they are devising strategies that accept the reality of the virus staying in the community long term. Prime Minister Ardern and her government still are backing the elimination strategy ––something that is starting to look difficult with each passing day, especially given all the lacunae listed above.

We still do not have a clear picture of where the government will find the money to pay for the range of subsidies it has been doling out once its $60 billion Covid fund runs out. It has used the fund to finance non-Covid related projects already and has very little remaining in the kitty. If it plans to borrow more, it must take the voter-taxpayer into confidence immediately.

First appeared in Indian, 25 August 2021