Can we take a moment to acknowledge how well we collectively managed the Delta outbreak over the summer?
Delta was public enemy No.1 last year as it threatened to be more contagious and arguably just as deadly as the original virus.
There was much anticipation for the Delta variant causing catastrophic impacts last year – but it did not, and now Delta is hardly mentioned any more.
Despite most of the country being in orange status, the number of Covid-19 cases in hospitals steadily declined from its peak of about 90 in early December to just four cases by the end of January.
Lots of Aucklanders came to Tauranga over summer, we hosted large events, and yet New Zealand's hospitalisations still declined.
Full credit to healthcare professionals, community groups and business leaders, who all helped to achieve the nation's vaccination targets by the end of 2021. Our vaccination levels have helped keep many Covid-19 cases out of hospital care.
Now the Omicron variant appears, from which the Prime Minister has acknowledged most people will experience mild symptoms.
If we reduced the number of hospitalisations for the more serious Delta variant while in orange status, surely we can achieve the same results for the milder Omicron variant?
The Government has announced it is evolving the traffic light framework to include a three-phase response for Omicron. On behalf of our small business community, I'd be very disappointed if the focus is put back on case numbers and not hospitalisations.
I am receiving calls, messages and emails from event managers, hospitality and tourism businesses asking me why we're in red status and cancelling events for a milder variant after our success with Delta. I struggle to give them a rational response.
There is growing discontent with the Government's isolation requirements after people have done what was asked and got vaccinated. I am hearing more people confess they are scanning in less often and they are not keeping up with the latest locations of interest because they cannot afford to isolate at home.
Larger businesses fear their staff will need to isolate if they are close contacts. They're very risk averse because it could mean they cannot operate until all the test results come back.
The Government needs to get ahead of the virus, and public discontent, by going into phase three as soon as possible.
The end goal of not overloading our hospitals has not changed, regardless of the number of cases of the milder variant.
The Government needs to ensure its guidelines are practical and realistic, otherwise a growing number of everyday Kiwis will start making their own decisions about the virus.
If the peak of Omicron does not put unsustainable pressure on our healthcare system, we need to go back to orange status and rationalise the real threat that Covid-19 brings to a highly vaccinated community.
- Matt Cowley is chief executive of Tauranga Chamber of Commerce