Select Page

It took the icy grip of the dreaded Delta variant and the resulting countrywide Alert Level 4 lockdown to spur the government into belated action on such a vital matter relating to the global pandemic as the vaccine rollout.

In the past just over two weeks, through the lockdown, the government has made great progress on vaccinating New Zealanders with more than a quarter of the eligible population fully jabbed and a sizable chunk having received the first dose.

There is no reason why this strong sense of purpose in rolling out the vaccine was so conspicuously missing in the government’s action plan throughout the crucial months gone by. If the vaccination rollout had matched the current pace months ago, there probably would not have been the need for a prolonged lockdown like the one we find ourselves in right now, according to some sources.

There is no doubt that some of the government machinery dropped the ball at least on a couple of counts. We were late in procuring the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine and were way behind our OECD peers in obtaining stocks. The government prevaricated all the while on reasons why both the planning and implementation turned out to be so lax.

On the management isolation and quarantine front too, the government appears to have to done little to improve infrastructure and processes incrementally, being late in upgrading ventilation systems in several of the facilities and completely ruling out even to consider purpose-built quarantine facilities like the way several other countries have done.

Australia, too, like New Zealand, had initially ruled against building dedicated quarantine facilities. But they’ve seen the light quicker than New Zealand and are well on their way to building at least a couple of facilities. New Zealand politicians seem rather more preoccupied in fanciful projects like the nearly $700 million cycleway across the Waitemata Harbour – a plan that fortunately came crashing down before it went up.

The one thing that hasn’t changed with the New Zealand government though is its steadfastness on its much-avowed Covid-19 Elimination Strategy. The strategy looked very good and doable with the less infectious alpha variant but looks far more resource intensive to achieve with the more virulent Delta variant.

The question here is what are the government’s strategies to continue with this Elimination Strategy with Delta in the mix? For how long can it keep the borders closed in pursuit of this ideal? For how long will it keep enforcing lockdowns? For how long will it keep doling out cash?

Delta is a tough customer and can’t be wished away. Once the borders are opened, it is sure to make a comeback, there is no doubt about that whatsoever. So how does the government plan to deal with it then?

Other than sticking to the Elimination Strategy, we have heard almost nothing on how the government plans to actually stick to it once the borders are opened, which it will have to at some point even before Delta and any other subsequent variants are eliminated globally – something which may never eventuate.

Will the government build dedicated quarantine facilities, which makes complete sense? Will it increase capacities at its hospitals to care for patients needing intensive care? (New Zealand has just five intensive care beds per 100,000 population, which is near the bottom of the OECD scale – and this is half of Australia’s.)

Will it continue to dither on immigration and keep much-needed trained, skilled migrants away from our borders solely citing the pandemic as a reason?

We do realise the government has to deal with far bigger issues at the moment. But that doesn’t mean it cannot look at what may be on the horizon and make plans to deal with it. Leadership is as much about planning for the future as it is about putting out current fires.

It would be good for New Zealand to have a part of this government focused solely on how to deal with what may be on store after most of us Kiwis are vaccinated.

First appeared in Indian Weekender August 3, 2021