Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Point of Order: How planning for the next pandemic can only be improved if we probe the Ardern Govt’s handling of Covid-19

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, basking in the headlines generated by being New Zealand’s mourner-in-chief for our late monarch, may find it has halted the slump in Labour’s polling.

Or, at least, she may be hoping it has done so.

The poll results released last week — both the Taxpayers’ Union Curia and Talbot Mills sampling— showed Labour support slipping, to as low as 33.4% in the Curia poll.

More significantly, they show enough support for the Opposition parties to form the next government.

The media’s fascination with the scenes in London, as Ardern talks to Royalty and rubs shoulders with international leaders, leave little room on the news channels for the darkening clouds at home.

Her deputy, Grant Robertson, gamely claims to be “optimistic” about NZ’s economic prospects, even as he sees “big seas ahead”.

Business leaders in Auckland who listened to him on Friday heard him say the Government’s Covid measures had saved lives and jobs before he conceded “we cannot deny they also cast a shadow, especially on New Zealanders’ mental health”.

Nevertheless he, like his leader, is shying away from the need for a royal commission to probe the lessons that could be learned from the way the pandemic was handled.

Opponents like ACT’s David Seymour have been calling for an inquiry. Seymour contends the impacts of NZ’s response have been immense.

“We have reason to believe there will be significant impacts on our children’s education , mental health, benefit dependency, crime, social cohesion, business strength, and infrastructure for years and years to come”.

Steven Joyce has a different perspective on the need for a royal commission.

“People died, some from Covid and some from other things that could be traced to the choices we made about Covid.We owe it to ourselves and to the memory of those lost to stop and take stock.

“We need to examine what worked and what didn’t. What had the biggest positive effect and what was more trouble than it was worth? When should we have moved more quickly, including both into and out of restrictions, and when should we have waited longer?”

Joyce says a Covid inquiry should not be a journey of recrimination or blame.

“Responding to a pandemic like this was never going to be a game of perfect. This has been a crazy two-and-a-half years of big decisions on top of big decisions where there was no game plan to work from. Nobody could have got everything right.

“Some things obviously worked, some obviously didn’t, and the jury is still out on many more”.

He also pointed out there were premature celebrations that our economy “avoided a recession”.

“The June quarter of 2022 was never the test. The real scorecard will come in the next year or so as we battle inflation caused by the Covid response with the medicine of much higher interest rates and a sharp contraction in money supply.

“Long Covid is as much a description of the economic and social hangover as it is of one aspect of this pernicious disease”.

As Joyce sums it up:

“If we do this inquiry right, we will have a game plan for next time. We now have a golden opportunity to perfect a blueprint for future pandemics”.

Then he sets out what an inquiry could traverse:

* How much did hard lockdowns achieve versus what other lesser restrictions could have?

* Could we keep working on, say, big construction sites with strong health and safety protocols without adding significantly to the risk?

* Could we keep butchers and fruit and vege stores safely open in hard lockdowns?

* How could we manage our border more humanely and stay connected to the world without materially worsening the risk?

* What should be the threshold for closing our schools, and what are the true costs to the children of doing so, balanced against the risks of virus transmission?

* How do we scale up hospital capacity quickly without sending ourselves broke in the meantime?

* Is there a better procurement system we should use for buying urgently needed equipment and vaccines?

* And how do we ensure contestable advice from others besides the public health people, while respecting their expertise?

Point of Order agrees that finding answers to those issues is vital if NZ is to do a better job the next time it is confronted by an pandemic.

The problem is that the Government doesn’t appear ready to concede it wasn’t as world-leading as it claimed to be in its response. Or that it might be blamed for falling educational standards or rising mental health cases.

And the Government may be worried that a Royal Commission could table its report just as the country moves into an election campaign .

Point of Order is a blog focused on politics and the economy run by veteran newspaper reporters Bob Edlin and Ian Templeton

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Labour will avoid any enquiry like the plaque. There is no doubt that the Pandemic response morphed from a Medical Emergency to a Political opportunistic response as it went along. Printing Billions of dollars for pet projects which had nothing to do with the Pandemic has royally screwed this country for many years to come.
The bad news around mandating people out of their jobs, ruining the lives of many will be avoided by Labour at all cost.
The scars will take a long time to heal and our Clown in Chief won't be anywhere near NZ to face the music.
The response was not World Leading it was a Myopic,unmitigated disaster. World Leading was Sweden. And those nice people at Oxford University have done all the data crunching for us !