None of our leading political figures wanted to play the Christmas Grinch this year and go hard with messages warning over the resurgence of Covid around the world.
So, let me debut instead.
First though, some small post-Christmas cheer – not for our politicians – but Taiwan authorities which slapped a Kiwi pilot with a $15,000 fine for failing to provide truthful contact information to help the stem an outbreak of Covid-19.
The NZ man, aged in his 60s, lives in Taiwan and had tested positive for coronavirus on December 20 after experiencing symptoms while on a cargo flight to the US. The infection was later transmitted to a female friend in Taiwan – the first community infection there in eight months.
A Taiwan television network labelled the Kiwi pilot a "public enemy" and he has been fired by EVA Airways.
A wander through the Auckland CBD this week showed precious few people wearing face masks – even coming off trains at Britomart – scanning QR codes at shops or practising social distancing. In fact, quite the opposite as if we were still not in the midst of a pandemic.
Yet, surely there should be a heightened alert message by now given the quickly spreading flare up of Covid-19 in Sydney and the spread of a mutant variety of the virus in the UK which resulted in that country having an effective moat imposed around it by its European neighbours and international airlines.
In New Zealand, there has been precious little out of the Beehive to suggest our key political leaders, particularly Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Chris Hipkins, who is the Minister for Covid-19 Response or their key public servants, are concerned.
Yes, we are all fagged out after a stressful year.
But if this nation's leaders do not ensure we remain on top of the Covid-19 virus, New Zealand will be in for another tough year. Particularly, if the second wave of this pandemic – which is already surging in other nations like the US and South Korea (which earlier chalked up considerable success) – reaches our shores.
The breakout of that new mutant strain in the UK ought to be putting all Kiwis – and our leaders – on guard.
A quick check of the Beehive website at 10am Thursday (the filing time for this column) showed two recent safety messages: Dr Ayesha Verrell – who was parachuted into Cabinet off the back of her Covid experience – issued a food safety announcement telling people to clean, cook and chill to keep whānau safe but nothing on Covid. Meanwhile, Emergency Management Minister Kiri Allan warned people to "slip, slop, slap and scan" and to check their tsunami readiness.
The Government is adhering to its "Make Summer Unstoppable" campaign. This basically reinforces the messages New Zealanders all know about: wash or sanitise your hands at frequent intervals, scan QR codes, turn on Bluetooth on your Covid Tracer app, and stay home if you're feeling even a little unwell.
"Many of us will be travelling around New Zealand and going to big events this summer. Shops will be more crowded than usual, and we'll be going to more social gatherings," the website says.
But the website does not focus on two practices which should be paramount: practising social distancing and wearing masks. It's like what is now happening in Sydney and the UK has no bearing here.
But it should.
Are we living in a fool's paradise? Should New Zealanders be going to the beaches in great numbers? Going to rock festivals or even the Americas' Cup without taking far greater precautions than the "Make Summer Unstoppable" campaign urges?
Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, is reported as estimating that the new variant has an increased transmission rate of 50 to 70 per cent compared with other variants in the United Kingdom.
This means it will spread far faster than the original virus and obviously put more pressure on the UK's already stretched frontline health services. The mutant variety is also present now in Australia and other nations. It is surely a matter of time before it sneaks through our borders.
Auckland microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles says the mutant Covid strain could be a test for NZ's managed isolation and quarantine systems when it arrives here.
Earlier this month, Ardern made clear that opening a transtasman travel bubble was dependent on the extent of community transmissions - Australia would need to have at least 28 days without community transmission before they open up their borders to such travel. Ardern must surely now be reconsidering if it is prudent to hold off until travellers are vaccinated against Covid.
A scathing review of the Health Ministry's response to Covid-19 – released publicly late last week after Hipkins sat on it for three months – found that New Zealand's current response model isn't "fit for purpose" over the next two to three years. Review co-chairs Sir Brian Roche and Heather Simpson told Hipkins in September that "we don't have a status quo model which is well understood and could serve effectively for the next 24 to 36 months - while the model is improving it is not yet fit for purpose over a longer time period".
Hipkins said Cabinet will pay for $1.12 billion of Covid-19-related health activities to June 2022, including:
• Maintaining up to 7000 tests a day including swabbing and laboratory services.
• Contact tracing, supplies of PPE and supporting technology.
• Additional support for the ministry, and for DHBs on an as-needed basis.
Further additional funding of $1.74b would ensure the MIQ operating model is fully resourced up to June 2022. This includes the costs of accommodation, transport, food, security and health and wellbeing services.
Given what is happening in the UK and Sydney that programme needs to move much faster.
It's worth looking at past pandemics. There have been several in the past century which ultimately burned out. The most famous example was H1N1 influenza outbreak of 1918–1919 commonly known as the "Spanish flu".
Back then there were no vaccines. The pandemic infected 500 million, killing between 50 million and 100 million. It burnt out as natural immunity increased among those that recovered.
The focus now should be on containing Covid-19 at the border until sufficient New Zealanders are vaccinated to curtail a spread when controls are lifted.
Now that Christmas is done, can we please all reinstate precautionary levels? Our health and economy depends on it.