My thoughts this week are still very much with Auckland and businesses that rely on patronage around New Zealand as we continue to work our way through lockdown (level 4 in Auckland and level 2.5 everywhere else).
When you see popular venues like Prefab in Wellington close the doors for good and you see other cafes and restaurants calling Delta level 2 a disaster in terms of trade, you get the sense of the tip of an economic iceberg and the good ship RMS NZ Economy heading straight for it.
So, what is the answer? And do we have a plan?
Covid-19 went quickly from being a regional problem (emanating from a city that housed a virology lab, which undertook gain-of-function research) to become an international crisis.
In early 2021 we watched as a communist regime locked cities down to contain the virus and mere weeks later we threw out our pandemic plans and copied the approach.
And you have to say that for New Zealand, in terms of protecting a potentially unprepared health system, the lockdown approach worked well (combined with geographic isolation, minimal international ports and a compliant community).
However, it sent many businesses to (or over) the cliff in spite of available support. We are also now seeing the quantitative easing which accompanied lockdowns bring material inflationary pressure, which has added further angst to business' bottom lines and cashflows – not to mention the housing costs and the general cost of living.
For New Zealand it has been "elimination" or nothing in terms of strategy, and the clean-up (like so many big-ticket issues over the years) was passed to future generations.
Australia, until recently, used to be able to tell a similar story. But in spite of the fact they can pinpoint the source of their Delta conundrum (something we in New Zealand seem incapable of, in spite of numerous Auckland lockdowns), state premiers and central government have reached a tipping point where the future is becoming about "living with Covid" rather than eliminating it.
You could argue that they, NSW in particular, fumbled their response to Delta – but recent stories of "Covid fatigue"" coupled with the impact on morale of microbiologist beach visits and Wānaka bach trips show there is risk that our current Delta challenge could also get beyond us.
And I am sorry if I am the bearer of what some might see as bad news here, but as time draws on it appears that living with the virus is where we will be headed too. Unfortunately, there is no tangible plan to do it, even though this was pretty much inevitable – just like the fact that Delta would eventually arrive here and become the "game-changer" we are always being told that it is.
So, if you believe that (and also see the other variants coming down the pipeline of function gaining viruses) why are we sticking to the blunt instrument of level 4 lockdown and tweaking lower levels? Probably because we are not yet ready to make that transition – strategically, practically, and emotionally. But more so politically.
While it appears that the much promoted "roadmap" for reconnecting New Zealand has gone back into the glovebox for retooling, right now we need a precise and definitive plan, and we need it yesterday. We need a clear vaccination level. We need tools like saliva testing. We need permanent vaccination centres in at-risk communities. We need to acknowledge our multicultural demography and invest more in tailored messaging rather than broad-brush communication and buzzwords. We need to plug all the gaps at our border. We need to bring in more qualified health staff. (I will stop because I have a word limit, but you get my point here).
But most of all we need to recognise that we have now reached the Main Act in terms of Covid management. While our collective experience of the last 18 months has been unique on a world scale (and equal doses of credit need to be given to our advisers, decision-makers and our unique geographic advantages) there will come a point where the advantages of "elimination" will fail to be outweighed by disadvantages (if they haven't been already).
Like before, we can still play our part, so if you haven't booked your vaccination, I encourage you to do so. We must also continue to support our local businesses and buy local. We also need to look out for our neighbour and check in on their mental health.
This is because more material change is inevitable, and it will either come in the form of ceasing the elimination strategy or we will keep locking down and watch the rest of the world move on. I think it will be the former. It is just a matter of when. We need a plan.