The events of the last week has brought it home to all of us that Covid-19 is going to be with us for some time. Just a few days ago we were celebrating 100 days in New Zealand with no community transmission and once again we were the envy of the world.
Since then a number of cases have emerged, at the time of writing, Auckland has moved to level 3 and the rest of the country level 2 and we await a decision as to what status will apply in the coming weeks.
There is widespread support within New Zealand for seeking to keep Covid out from our borders. To do that it is generally accepted that we need vigilance at the border and testing of those working on aircraft coming into New Zealand or who work one way or another at international airports, within border control, managed isolation and quarantine.
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We don't yet know how the recent cases which have emerged came into New Zealand but logic would suggest they most likely have come from contact with someone who has traveled from overseas.
But with even the best of systems and vigilance there is the risk that we will have more "spikes"of cases as we have this week. No system is ever perfect so it's probably unrealistic to think we will keep Covid out of New Zealand indefinitely or even until a vaccine or other treatment becomes available.
When these cases arise - should we close down large parts of our economy or is it possible to find a way to respond that keeps more of our economy functioning and more people in work?
I'm certainly not being critical of the Government's initial response to Covid-19. I'm simply asking what have we learnt since the initial outbreak in New Zealand and how can we adapt with the benefit of that experience and knowledge?
One thing we now know that we didn't six months or so ago is that masks are effective in protecting against transmission. So can we combine vigilance in hand sanitisation, social distancing and mask wearing to allow more businesses to operate when we get an outbreak?
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If so this would allow the greengrocer, the butcher, the fish shop and other small businesses to operate in a similar way to supermarkets. It's never made sense to me why these small business cannot operate when supermarkets can-they can limit numbers in their shops, take the strain off supermarkets, support their local communities and keep their staff employed.
Similarly, why can't construction workers and others continue to work using these measures? Yes they can at level 3 but why not at level 4? Wouldn't it be great to use periods when the CBD in cities like Auckland are empty of office workers to get on with finishing the various roading and other construction projects that are underway across the city? What about retailers? My own observation is that retail outlets are very often less congested at anytime than supermarkets. If they can apply similar cautious measures like supermarkets, then why not let them open?
My perspective and challenge isn't coming from a "selfish" business perspective, it's from seeing people suffer through redundancies, wage cuts, business closure and the massive debt that has had to be incurred to support our community as a result of the economic traversity brought about by Covid. I can't see as a country that we can carry on responding in the same way-the cost is huge on multiple levels.
One final challenge relates to contact tracing. Many have found the Covid App difficult to use and got frustrated with it. We need a system that is easy and can be widely used. When people have suggested simply giving government agencies access to mobile data to identify close contacts of a person who has caught the virus the objection has been a privacy one.
For my part, I think we need to have a mature debate about that. I for one would happily trade freedom and ease of movement for government agencies having the ability to know where I had been over a period of days if I have come into contact with someone with Covid.
We could actually give government agencies that right for a limited period while Covid is the threat to our personal health and our economy. It could be, of course, that I'd be willing to make that trade off because my life is pretty simple and others are more sensitive to government agencies being able to access their movements in limited circumstances.
Nevertheless we need to find a system that is easy to use and effective. Making use of the technology we already have would seem sensible to me.
Business today talks about being "agile". Can government also be? The fact we are dealing with these enormous challenges at the time of an election is unfortunate. It is only natural for the incumbent government to be cautious. Is it possible to seek bipartisan support for how New Zealand responds in the best interests of our country? Quite a challenge but leadership is just that.
Our nation came together earlier this year to address the threat Covid-19 posed to our community.
In my view by being agile and open to new ways of doing things we can come through the ongoing challenges that Covid presents better than would otherwise be the case.
• Cathy Quinn is a non-executive director of a number of listed and unlisted entities and a consultant at MinterEllisonRuddWatts