A high-profile businessman is concerned New Zealand remains vulnerable to future pandemics despite our effective fight against Covid-19.
"We have no strategic vision for how to live with this or any of its successors in the future," entrepreneur and investor Guy Haddleton tells the Herald.
"The Government currently has a stamp-out strategy and it's been quite successful. But so what if we stamp this one out? We're still going to be living with this thing for the next six, 12 or maybe 24 months or at least until a vaccine comes around. And what happens if a vaccine doesn't come around?"
As the founder of software business Anaplan, which debuted on the US stockmarket last year and today commands a market cap of $6 billion (NZ$9.3 billion), Haddleton knows a thing or two about developing strategies to achieve an objective.
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A health crisis is far removed from running a software firm, but Haddleton doesn't pretend to be an epidemiologist. His interest is not in the study of disease, but rather in what the nation does in the event of an outbreak of Covid or one of its cousins – Sars, Ebola and Mers.
The missteps at the border and in quarantine over the last two weeks provided a strong reminder that the structures in place are far from impervious.
"I'm not dissing the Government. It's done a very good job communicating with everyone through this," he says.
"What I am suggesting is that the Government is doing everything in a reactive manner."
Doing things in this way is a privilege born from the fact that we weren't the first country to be hit by the virus. Had the virus taken a different trajectory, New Zealand could just as easily have been the Italian example to the rest of the world.
This isn't the current Government's fault, says Haddleton, explaining the Prime Minister's team has inherited legacy processes that could be attributed to any of the previous governments in recent decades.
"We find ourselves where we are because of the global circumstances, but the Government in power now needs to build policies quickly or else we'll just be caught napping again and again and lose more business."
Haddleton argues that we can't gamble our economy on the hope that we aren't the first domino to fall in the next pandemic.
"What I'm trying do is enable a debate about what the vision for our country should be when pandemics arrive," he says.
He thinks New Zealand should set the bar high and strive to be the cleanest, greenest country in the world, open for business even during a pandemic.
"That vision will force us to build strategies now that could be executed in six months," he says.
"If we don't have that discussion now, we're losing six extremely valuable months."
So what exactly would a good strategy look like? And where would the money come from to pay for it?
An ex-military man who spent five years as SAS Captain, Haddleton sees the answer to both these questions in the Defence Force.
"We invest $4 billion per annum in our national Defence Force," he says.
"Now is the time to rethink our defence priorities against pandemic threats."
These comments could be controversial in that they come at a time when there are calls to defund the military and the police, but this isn't what Haddleton is asking the Government to do.
He instead believes that at least some of the Defence Force budget should be allocated specifically to what he calls a strategic pandemic defence policy that focuses on protecting the nation from threats to our wealth and health.
There is some clear overlap here with what the Ministry of Health is designed to do, but Haddleton doesn't think this is the right organisation to take care of the strategic implementation of a pandemic action plan.
"We've seen that our health body doesn't have a deep command and control. It's fragmented into a set of entities," he says.
"In contrast, the military is well practised, well managed and has deeply embedded command and control techniques that can ensure effective execution of the various strategies that need to be implemented immediately for the defence of the country.
"I was involved in protecting our country from certain threats. And we always practised and trained for those threats. We tested against those threats all the time and we had well-established processes to implement our strategies. Here, we've had nothing. We were just caught napping."
Strategies suggested by Haddleton include an alert system tracking potential pandemic threats; testing processes and centres providing immediate feedback of carriers; compulsory automatic contact tracing of all mobile devices, enabled by pandemic legislation, that comes into effect under pandemic conditions; and a redeveloped quarantine approach that can accommodate more people and make the experience more palatable to visitors.
Haddleton concedes some of these points might be controversial, but believes it essential to have the debate right now.
"The most important thing is that we have a border that's impenetrable to any threats from now on," he says.
"We need to create an overarching strategy to ensure that our $36 billion tourist industry can again begin to operate safely and with confidence."
He believes that with the right processes in place, we wouldn't need to shut down the whole country because we'd have sufficient safeguards to keep the population from harm.
His recommendation on quarantine is particularly pertinent given the strain the current system has placed on the government and the hotel industry.
"We've currently got a bottleneck with 5,000 people in quarantine, but what would happen if we had 100,000? What resources do we need to do that? And who pays for that?"
Haddleton says with the right thinking there's no reason why visitors or returning Kiwis can't foot at least some of the bill when it comes to staying in quarantine or mandatory isolation.
"Maybe the Government could fund a minimum level of support, like a one-star motel or something like that, but the user should pay for anything beyond that. Why should we be paying for five-star accommodation for folks?"
The point Haddleton makes here is that once the processes are established and identified, it becomes much easier to enforce them. When decisions are made reactively, it often requires decision-makers to convince the public that it's the best – or only – course of action.
You need only look at the example of many Kiwis overseas ignoring the warning issued by Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters to understand the challenge in getting the public to listen when the only source of authority is the voice of a politician.
If processes and strategies are concretised in legislation and a predetermined course of action, then they become bigger than that single voice and Government can save valuable time in effecting a course of action.
There will always be civil liberty concerns when it comes to establishing the rules for extreme cases, but Covid-19 has provided a stern warning for what can happen when we are underprepared.
What the politicians say
Asked to comment on the merits of Haddleton's idea to shift defence spending toward pandemic preparation, Defence Minister Ron Mark said his team had been working on an update of its strategy.
"Defence has been considering the changing impact of biological hazards and threats on New Zealand's security for some time," Mark told the Herald.
"The Ministry of Defence is now preparing a Defence Assessment which explores the New Zealand Defence role as part of an all of government "all hazards, all risks" approach to the spectrum of biological hazards and threats."
He also stressed that the New Zealand Defence Force's approach is not based on individual hazards, but rather centres on maintaining enough flexibility to respond to any threat.
He said that all investments made in Defence are aimed at ensuring the military has the capabilities to respond at speed and scale.
"For example, our C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft will improve our capability to move people, equipment and relief supplies quickly across New Zealand and the Pacific, whether in response to a pandemic, natural hazard, or another event," Mark said.
National's Defence spokesman Mark Mitchell stressed that the Defence Force has already played a vital role during this pandemic, quarantining evacuees from Wuhan at the Whangaparaoa camp and stepping in to continue to monitor our border.
He did, however, admit that there was room for improvement.
"We've just experienced our first modern-day pandemic and so there will be lessons to be learnt on how well we responded and where we could do better, just as there was following the earthquakes," Mitchell said.
"That may mean further investment will be required into the Defence Force to ensure we are prepared to deal with any future pandemics."