Here’s to a good year. It really was. After the year of the virus (2020) and the year of the vaccine (2021), we’ve had a year of valour.
Valour most obviously in Ukraine where 2022 will forever be remembered, no matter how the war ends, as the year their nation faced its greatest test and passed with colours flying. Its flag is now flying everywhere, including faraway New Zealand, where freedom is valued and bravery honoured.
But let’s also recognise the ordinary quiet valour required to live with a new, sometimes deadly and still mutating virus. This year’s variants have been more infectious than previous ones but we didn’t lock down, didn’t keep the borders closed – and our hospitals coped.
They were stretched through the winter but they coped. Though their ICU capacity had not been increased since we were told they couldn’t cope with a pandemic, they coped. And though the virus was taking a greater toll in New Zealand than it had previously, we didn’t stop social life this time.
Already lockdowns seem long ago. Strange to think it was only last year that Auckland was closed from August to December and mass vaccination was the only way out. Vaccination ceased to be a personal decision and become a social obligation, even mandatory for admission to some places.
It’s terrible to remember how intolerant we became of anyone who wouldn’t be jabbed. I’m ashamed now of a column abusing Novak Djokovic for seeking a dispensation. When he returns to the Melbourne tennis courts in a couple of weeks the ban of last January will seem a lifetime ago.
We’ve come a long way in 2022. The year’s seminal event in New Zealand was the camp on Parliament’s lawn in February. It was much more than an anti-vaccination jamboree, it was a catharsis from all corners of a country that had had enough of restrictions and commandments.
It got bad press from the beginning because the protesters did not subscribe to the pandemic script and their vehicles were blocking the streets around Parliament. Some of their placards were dark, some of them didn’t like the media. TV reporters feared going near them.
The Prime Minister wouldn’t speak to them. From the safety of the Beehive, she announced vaccination mandates would be reconsidered but denied it was a response to what was happening outside. It was not her finest hour.
The campers could have declared success at that point but they stayed. The police were commendably restrained but eventually had to bring about a conclusion. There were fires, rocks thrown, but no serious injuries, no lasting damage.
Parliament’s grass has regrown. All that remains is a file of useful footage that will often be replayed, showing New Zealanders’ acceptance of extreme restrictions should never be taken for granted. That’s good.
It might seem odd to call 2022 a good year when Russia is still raining missiles on Ukraine and we are paying the price of lockdowns with inflation. But to both those challenges, the response so far is good.
Central banks are doing what they need to do, raising interest rates and making it clear they will cause a recession if necessary. Ukraine has fought back as Russia never expected and with the help of Western weapons Ukraine is succeeding.
Bigger battles on both fronts may come in the New Year. When more fixed-rate mortgages have been renewed at higher rates and the households have less to spend, we will need a Government that can resist pressure to relieve the pain in ways that will only prolong inflation.
When Europe becomes weary of winter energy costs and the United States counts the cost of continuing to arm Ukraine, their leaders might find it harder to resist Putin’s newly stated wish to negotiate an end to the war he started.
The task of 2023 will be to maintain the resolve of 2022. Interest rates do stop inflation if given enough time. The time depends crucially on the central bank’s credibility. The more resolute the bank, the shorter a recession may be.
Likewise for Ukraine. The West must give Putin no reason to think it will put pressure on Ukraine to come to a compromise. So far so good, Ukraine’s attack on a military air base in Russia this week suggests it is now allowed to fire Western missiles across the border, hitting the launch sites of so many missiles aimed at civilian targets in Ukraine.
The war against Russia, like that on inflation, could be harder in 2023. But inspired by Ukraine, relieved of viral fear and given strong economic leadership, we can make it a Happy New Year.