Today's topic is not going to be popular with some, however I think it contains points which need to be raised and debated.
Earlier this morning (Monday) I had a phone conversation with a work colleague and local business owner (we will call her Ms X).
In the conversation, as I am sure has been the case for many people in New Zealand, the latest outbreak of Covid–19 was the topic.
We discussed our shared concern about the impact of a lengthy lockdown but agreed with the decision for a three-day "circuit breaker".
We then moved to how it appears (and still is at the time of writing) that the highly infectious "UK variant" had scythed through our border defences like Beauden Barrett through the Aussie backline.
Adding to the tension, we turned our conversation to the visitation of Taranaki by the unfortunate people who got infected and the curious feature that, in a high number of cases, people with Covid (outside of MIQ) seem to travel.
Our conversation then turned to the fact that between 6 and 14 February (or earlier if you assume that those currently infected caught it off somebody else) our city could have hosted asymptomatic or symptomatic carriers.
We then discussed the border and why it can't be closed – and, for the record, I agree with the Prime Minister's explanation I saw on TV3's The AM Show, where she outlined the effect on logistics and trade.
However, both Ms X and I disagreed with the assertion New Zealand cannot slow the flow of travellers - at least until we can audit the border and MIQ and assure ourselves that the failures (averaging about one every two weeks according to one commentator) can be stopped.
Finally, I was asked a question by Ms X which stopped me in my tracks – and I do wish that someone in our media would ask this question of those with the power to advise on or push the "lockdown button".
The question was/is "Why is it that the rights of returning New Zealanders and transiting passengers appear to be taking precedence over permanent residents [the 'team of 5 million']?".
And it is a very good question, particularly when you measure the economic cost of regional and nationwide lockdowns, not to mention that this virus will kill some people if they are exposed to it.
It appears that there is no clear link at this time to determine "patient zero" for this latest outbreak and Kiwis seem to be accepting of the line that "hey, it's a virus and it's always going to get through". I'm not so much in that camp, because if you have the resources and the willpower, all gaps can be plugged in any system at least to a level of confidence and performance higher than New Zealand and places like Melbourne are seeing.
At some point, the government is going to have to either put some steroids into the MIQ process or we are going to have to move to a different plan where we accept that this is how life is.
And before you say "hey, Russ, there is a vaccine – it's going to be all good", there is already news about reducing vaccine efficacy emerging and the length of time that you will have immunity appears to be quite short due to the new strains. Is this virus becoming endemic like influenza?
I recall back in 2020, the "powers that be" stating that "we don't want to be bouncing in and out of lockdown".
They do not say that so much now. So, "out of an abundance of caution" could we please turn down the tap on returnees and transiting passengers and fortify the border?
Ms X, for one, says she would sleep a lot easier if this was to occur.