COVID19 in New Zealand: The border question

I want to be clear that I do not advocate its immediate reopening whilst the rest of the world including nearly all of our major trading partners are not in control of their domestic COVID19 situations. There are several very good reasons for doing so, which I will outline shortly, but first I want to examine the situation New Zealand finds itself currently in.

Compared with other countries, our control of COVID19 has by and large been very good. Whereas COVID19 is still killing people in large numbers on a daily basis in numerous western nations, New Zealand has not had a COVID19 death since May. We managed to go 102 days without community transmission being picked up. Even now with community transmission being linked to the current outbreak, with the exception of two cases in Tokoroa in the central North Island who are linked to the Auckland outbreak, nowhere south of Waikato has it.

Is this to say we are doing a perfect job of containing COVID19? Absolutely not. We have made some mistakes and I think it is probably more sheer dumb luck that those mistakes have not made us pay a lethal price, yet. The authorities at the border should all be kitted out in P.P.E. and assume any one or more of the arrivals in front of them is a walking time bomb. Their union should be insisting on it. The same goes for Air New Zealand flight crew, counter staff and terminal customer service crew. All of them should be assuming that they are working in the presence of someone potentially with COVID19.

It was inevitable that another outbreak would eventually occur. We did very well to get 102 days of no community transmission. We managed to go back almost to normal at Level 1 with pretty much all activities, daily routines and associations being able to occur in some form or another. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern always said that there would be a possibility that we might have to go back into some kind of lock down somewhere in New Zealand at some point.

This is not to say that we should now be thinking that with a second – limited scale – lock down in progress that things will now improve long term. Not the way the world is going. Not the way our most immediate potential bubble partners are going. So, with that said, the reasons for not opening the border immediately include:

  1. New Zealand has a number of tiny Pacific Island neighbours in addition to Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands. These island/atoll nations are in several cases even more vulnerable than the aforementioned and in the most serious case an outbreak of COVID19 could potentially kill the entire population. I am talking about tiny dependencies such as Wallis and Futuna (French, population 15,000); Norfolk Island (Australian, pop. 2,100); New Caledonia (French, pop. 256,000), among others. We owe to those nations to keep them safe from COVID19.
  2. COVID19’s ability to kill is not to be underestimated. And what really irks me is how people are playing statistical games to justify following the ill-fated Swedish model that has seen a country with just twice our population lose 250x as many of its people as New Zealand has, whilst being saddled with 53x as many cases.
  3. Herd immunity DOES NOT WORK! This is the only thing that irks me more than the statistical games and the crappola emanating from some parts of the political spectrum about conspiracies against New Zealanders liberties and economic well being. The idea that in order to gain it we should expose our most vulnerable citizens, and in particular our elderly to the illness makes me feel off just thinking about it. Just ugh!

This is not to say that the border should stay closed indefinitely. At some point we are going to have to open up again. Some want to open now. Some want to wait a few months and see if we can establish bubbles with other well performing nations. Then there are some like me who believe that opening up in 2020 is just inviting a humanitarian catastrophe New Zealanders know would be catastrophic for the country, not just in terms of potential threat to New Zealanders, but also our reputation world wide as a responsible first world nation that cares about others.

The border question I think will need to be reviewed in early 2021. It buys us time to patch up the economy internally, to address system issues with quarantine and hopefully flush the toxic conspiracy theories that are emanating from the likes of New Zealand Public Party, Brian Tamaki and others down the electoral toilet.

Until then, it must stay closed.

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