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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

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Opinion: Has our government lost the covid plot?

I’ve been talking to some liberal, Labour voting friends in the past few days, and it seems we are all fed up.

Fed up with three months of lockdown, and it seems fed up with our government. 

What a difference from this time last year. The Labour Party under PM Jacinda Ardern had just been voted back into power in a huge landslide election. New Zealand had seemingly kept covid at bay and the country was justifiably proud and grateful. 

Then this year, delta arrived. Yeah, it’s a tricky little bugger. Slippery as hell, and far more able to exploit any weakness in our systems designed to keep it contained. 

So in August this year, we went back into lockdown, and now, our nation’s biggest city, my home, has endured the longest lockdown in our history. 

The government set a very ambitious goal – get 90% of the population vaccinated and we’ll get our freedom.

As of early November, Auckland has almost reached that goal, and that’s really, really impressive. But now comes the bewildering part. Once we’ve reached that goal, we won’t necessarily get the freedom we deserve.

Instead of the concrete and easily understood process we had last year, we now have a confusing traffic light system that means we may not be able to do what we want to do even if we are vaccinated. What’s more, the government is now saying, unvaccinated people may not be able to leave the region.


How on earth is that going to work?  Imagine the total chaos on the highways out of the city at Christmas. The Bombay Hills in the south and the Johnson Hill tunnels to the north are bottlenecks during holidays. Imagine police checks as well. We might as well just have a staycation!

Look, I get it. Delta has changed the game completely, and it’s probably never going to be suppressed again. There are also serious issues for some communities, particularly rural Māori communities where vaccination uptake is much lower. 

But the country, and Auckland in particular, cannot continue much longer with this situation. Businesses are suffering, our people are suffering, mental health concerns are rising, and we are getting angry. 

I know it’s easy to blame the government, and up till now they’ve done well, but opening shops next week, while leaving gyms and restaurants closed is weird. 

For my mental and physical health, I’d prefer to go to the gym rather than a mall. Why can’t a booking system be mandated for gyms and restaurants? The Tepid Baths in Auckland has set up just such a process and that will kick in once lockdown levels are reduced – it’s a great idea.

We have almost achieved the 90% vaccine rate here in Auckland – so it’s time to open up. 

As I said, there are concerns about the unvaccinated, especially those in rural Māori communities. Some of that is because our government institutions and services have actively discriminated against Tangata Whenua for generations, and despite attempts to change that, inequality still exists as does a deep mistrust of government among many Māori. 

So how do you manage all that? 

Well, you do it by dealing with the desperate inequality in this country. You empower local Māori communities to take control of their own destinies and you give them the resources to do it. You jump really hard on educated doctors and others who are deliberately pushing lies about vaccination. 

Furthermore, you give a full commitment to fixing the health system right now. For instance, you could stop those endless ‘negotiations’ and fucking fix Whangarei Hospital. And you develop the balls, to admit that we have underfunded ICU beds in this country for decades.

Covid actually presents an incredible PR opportunity to prioritise mental and physical health in this country and to tackle all sorts of health and environmental issues in this country. 

You can also open up the places that are at the 90% vaccination rate and you keep controls on the areas that aren’t up to that level. It may seem unfair to some, but we are talking about the worst public health crisis in a century.

We cannot keep locking down, so our government needs to ensure that we also have enough of the vaccine for regular booster shots. They also need to get some sort of vaccine passport up and running quickly and ensure that there are strong and fair rules over its use.

One year into its second term, our government also needs to know that while we’ve supported them thus far, the population of this country’s largest city has had enough.


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