I'm finding myself feeling increasingly sympathetic to Jacinda Ardern and her Government's predicament over the Covid crisis. However, I appear to be one of the few thinking that way.
All the other parties in Parliament turned on her and were harshly critical after she outlined the alleged "roadmap" to get Auckland out of lockdown. In the weird parallel universe of Twitter, the political left, once Ardern's biggest supporters, spat the dummy. The press gallery seems no longer happy to roll over and have its tummy tickled and has begun asking her and Dr Ashley Bloomfield some hard, penetrating questions.
The tide is turning, not in the battle to eliminate or suppress Delta but in the amount of patience New Zealand has with continued restrictions on life as we used to know it. The Government will be running its private tracking polls and must know it is increasingly risking the country – particularly Auckland, but also the much-prevailed-upon South Island – degenerating into acts of civil disobedience and disorder as we grind our way painfully towards Christmas.
The most recent announcement on Covid appeared weak and timid. It sought to convince people to get vaccinated as the only way out of the crisis. The trouble is, with just over 80 per cent of the eligible population (and 87 per cent of Aucklanders) having had at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine and 60.5 per cent fully vaccinated, we are getting down to the dregs of the vaccine hesitant and the anti-vaxxers who refuse to be "convinced".
For the financial and physical health of the country, the next step should be to apply an element of force. That sounds ugly, I know, but it's time to get tougher and we need to find ways to gently compel those who wish to get a free ride from the rest of us being vaccinated to get a double jab.
The first and most obvious move is to produce a vaccine passport that means bars, restaurants, public transport, sports stadiums and shops can easily bar those who put their customers' health at risk by stubbornly remaining vaccine free. The Government says work on a vaccine passport app is under way.
The second thrust should be to redouble efforts to get the vaccine resistant, especially the Māori population whose rates – on October 4, 57.1 per cent had had their first dose compared with 79.4 per cent of the general population – lag well behind the rest of us, to front up for their shots. They need to be targeted by many more mobile vaccination units in homes, churches and places where they can gather. The Government is doing some of this but needs to dramatically increase those efforts.
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Third, and most importantly, it needs to set a clear date at which it will drastically roll back the restrictions in Auckland and around the country. A deadline will finally push many of the recalcitrant to do the sensible thing. We need to be able to see a finish line; we cannot continue to endlessly trudge down a dark tunnel while the Government tries to persuade us that sometime in the distant future we can return to relative normality.
Can I also suggest it is time to lock up the epidemiologists, microbiologists and Covid modellers who continually sound like prophets of doom? It just creates a pointless climate of fear and depression that exacerbates the state of crisis.
It is time for the Government to get tougher, and I genuinely have sympathy for Ardern in this situation, because acting tough is not in her nature. But, Prime Minister, it is time to be hard.