COVID19 outbreak sends Auckland to L3; Rest of New Zealand to L2


It is back. Somehow after 102 days with no community transmission New Zealand has got a COVID19 out break in Auckland.

As of 1200 hours today Auckland will be moved back to LEVEL 3, where all non essential businesses and those with front facing only service functions have to close. All bars, cinemas, malls, places of leisure have to close. For the rest of New Zealand the country is moving back to LEVEL 2. Distancing will apply, restrictions of no more than 100 in bars and restaurants as well as people being seated will apply.

To Auckland and the rest of New Zealand, see you in a few days. With the exception of going for a COVID19 test I am grounded until the results are back, which I expect will be sometime on Thursday.

On another COVID19 note two rest homes in Christchurch are under lock down after patients there were found to have flu like symptoms.

It is important to note that the Government anticipated a probable move back into a higher level of alert for brief periods of time in their planning. They also warned people that New Zealanders should have masks available for when they go out, and to get tested if presented with the opportunity.

Maintaining vigilance in the COVID19 environment


Despite the 100 days that have passed since the last known case of community transmission, New Zealand has no room for complacency. Anyone wanting to argue this point need only look across the Tasman Sea and note the struggles of Victoria and other Australian states. They should also consider the fact that no one in New Zealand wants to go back into lock down for very obvious reasons. Only then, after asking themselves if that torpedoes their argument, can they debate the level of danger COVID19 poses to New Zealand.

For myself, my work, the risk of COVID19 coming back is one I/we cannot afford to ignore. The rental car sector has suffered with the plunge in tourists and other users wanting cars to drive. The fact that Avis Budget Group has announced potential job losses should not come as a surprise. More companies – if they have not already done so – will be considering whether they can afford to maintain current staffing levels. Most tourism comes from international tourists and the high season in summer is the busiest time of year for tourism businesses.

The same goes for hospitality businesses. Whilst New Zealand is largely back to normal, a number of small hospitality businesses such as bars, cafes, restaurants have been forced to close because the economic impact of everyone staying home was not something that they could afford. If a second wave of COVID19 comes, and medical experts say that there is a good probability it will, without a shred of doubt New Zealand will be in big trouble if we open our borders.

The need to maintain vigilance was noted in a newspaper article in The Press yesterday. Last week Ministry of Health Director General Dr Ashley Bloomfield said that New Zealanders should have masks ready to go in case New Zealand finds itself having to rapidly increase the COVID19 Alert Level. This warning has seen a surge in mask purchases being made around New Zealand.

At an individual level I now wear gloves all day every day at work. I wash my hands more frequently and use hand sanitizer upon entry to any store that has it available. I am more conscious of my health and am more likely to stay home if I have a minor cold instead of having a pair of Immunofort tablets to give me 12-18 hour relief.

However not everyone believes the danger exists. Aside from the fringe parties on the far right, such as New Zealand Public Party which believes COVID19 is a scam and that it is being used as a disguise for a government seizure of ones rights, there is more moderate – yet politically desperate – resistance emanating from National and A.C.T. who believe that the borders should be reopened so that non-New Zealanders wanting to conduct business here can enter. Neither National or A.C.T. have indicated any recognition of the fact that the very tourism industry that they claim to be supporting wants a reopening of the borders, because it is simply too dangerous.

If COVID19 is the scam that so many are saying it is, then why is it out of control around the world? Why is the public so trusting in the Government I have heard some ask. The answer is simple: just this once the Government of the day in New Zealand has largely done very well in containing COVID19. I know this because I have American friends who are openly jealous of how well we are doing. I cannot blame them.

 

Australian COVID19 woes a warning to New Zealand


For most of the last three months, New Zealand has literally been in a world of its own. Whilst other countries have partially recovered from COVID19 and are trying to get back to something approaching normal in a post-COVID world, New Zealand has dialled back to being an almost normal society in terms of every day activities. Whilst the country is keeping a watching brief on what is happening around the world, the very business premises here that are struggling to open in most other countries are enjoying a surprisingly strong revival. A domestic market that is determined to make up for lost time is also seeking to rejuvenate itself, having been squeezed by international demand, that has effectively dried up.

At a time when there are wannabe political parties who think COVID19 is a scam and that New Zealanders are falling for it, the Australian state of Victoria has entered a complete lock down with only essential services able to function. Much like the New Zealand lock down, all bars, cinema’s, leisure complexes, shopping malls are closed until at least some point in September. And last night I heard that New South Wales has closed its border with Queensland as well as its previously closed border with Victoria.

Clearly Australia is losing control of COVID19. 726 new cases were announced in Victoria just yesterday, which about 40% of all the cases of COVID19 ever announced in New Zealand. This means that the border is likely to remain firmly shut for the indefinite future. It also puts in serious jeopardy the idea of a trans-Tasman bubble or a south Pacific bubble with our smaller island neighbours such as Tonga, Fiji and Samoa.

The danger is real. Given the explosive growth of case numbers in Victoria, it would only take a small number of people testing positive without entering quarantine to bring back the virus to New Zealand. Australia has 18,728 vs 1,569; 10,000+ recovered vs 1,523; 232 dead compared to 22. But whereas New Zealand went as an entire nation from one level to the next, Australia has been acting state by state when perhaps there is a case for the Federal Government to move the country as a whole.

New Zealand should be watching what is happening in Australia with great wariness. Whereas Australia has greater resources at state and Federal level to tap we do not. New Zealand also has to be mindful of the fact that for many parts of the world we are the gateway to Polynesia and Melanesia, parts of the world that have almost no defences against COVID19 and which could – in the case of very small island states like Wallis and Futuna, be completely wiped out. Neither we – and certainly not they – can afford for this to happen.

 

Opposition plan to rein in debt a stretch at best


In 1991, the then Minister of Finance Ruth Richardson presented probably the most infamous fiscal budget in New Zealand history. It was called the Mother of all Budgets. Controversial among even her colleagues to the point that it led to notable members of her National Party resigning from Parliament; from the National Party, the social service cuts that the budget enacted were some of the most savage in New Zealand history.

30 years later, with COVID19 afflicting the world and New Zealand, having managed to largely freed itself from the pandemic, trying to get its house back in order, National Party Finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith wants another Ruthanasia-esque slash and burn.

I find it quite striking that Mr Goldsmith is so keen on this plan. This is particularly so when one considers that the same party has just indicated it is not keen on the idea of a health system overhaul, which would among other things;

  1. Better allocate funding for projects and resources
  2. Improve efficiency of monies distribution throughout the system
  3. Provide greater accountability to the Government and taxpayer

There are other Government ministries and departments that could do with an overhaul of how they work. One is Ministry of Social Development. I have described the issues facing them in various articles here, but it needs to be said that the legal framework under which M.S.D.’s umbrella agencies such as Study Link, Work and Income New Zealand, Child Youth and Farmily Service need to be reviewed as well.

There is more to achieving savings though, than simply cutting expenditure. If the investment in appropriate services by the Government is not adequate, this can create additional unintended issues by locking up monies by throttling those services. Simple as it may sound, the lack of willingness by politicians to understand this is really quite incredible.

But I do not think anyone should be dreadfully surprised that National are trying failed methods for the umpteenth time to lower debt. The Government of Prime Minister John Key promised “a brighter future” for New Zealanders at large. Whilst it is true that this was certainly the case for the rich top 3-5% of New Zealanders, the vast majority of New Zealanders saw little or no meaningful improvement in their financial situations.

The $80 billion in cuts being proposed by National are – to put it very mildly – deep. Their Treasury spokesperson Paul Goldsmith suggested that within one decade his party would seek to reduce debt to below 30% of Gross Domestic Product.

To achieve that National have two choices:

  • Significant tax increases, or – more likely;
  • Significant cuts to public services across the board

Based on their philosophical stand point and strong aversion to increasing taxes, massive cuts across the board to public services are far more likely. But is it possible that those cuts will be so deep as to cause lasting damage to health, social welfare, education, policing, housing and other areas with a social focus?

Quite.

The last time such cuts were made, they were in the Mother of All Budgets presented by Mrs Richardson in 1991. Ruthanasia as it was crudely named by social activists at the time, was a systematic demolition in a single budget in 1991 of a solidly constructed welfare state. Social benefits were cut across the board; user pays were introduced for many requirements in hospitals and schools; state housing was handed over to companies under Government contract in all but name.

My generation of New Zealanders were in primary and intermediate school when these were announced. Having seen the intergenerational social effects of the framework of the welfare state being so deliberately assaulted, I think the push back would be substantial from both centrist and leftist New Zealand.

But am I sure that National cares?

No.

Government needs to be careful about charging New Zealanders to return


I find myself in a unique situation at the moment. I have friends from my University of Canterbury days who did their postgraduate studies here. Shortly before they left at the end of 2002, their first child was born in Christchurch. 17 1/2 years later, having finished high school and decided to take a gap year before taking up her entrance to Yale University, she is coming to New Zealand. She is a New Zealand citizen as is the rest of her family.

On one hand I can understand the Government wanting to make sure that there is no unnecessary burden caused by people who have been out of New Zealand for a long time. Going into isolation for two weeks – or longer if one has COVID19 – is going to be a taxing time, not just for the person’s sanity, but also on the rest of New Zealand, whose government monies and resources will be in use to ensure the isolation is successful. In this respect I can understand why people might be annoyed with those who want to come home just for the duration that it takes for the world to get over COVID19 and then presumably vanish again.

On the other hand, some of the sentiment and some of the politicking around this is completely misguided and that is where I think my friend from the United States comes into the picture. She left the country with her parents when their study finished – her mother graduated with a Masters in Law; her father with a PhD in seismic engineering. She has spent the last 17 years living in Los Angeles with her sister and parents. In this case she has never had an opportunity to pay New Zealand taxes because she has not lived here as a taxpaying citizen, and she would be arriving just out of high school. If she gets paid employment it would more than cover the $3,000. I would suggest that before we charge a New Zealand citizen doing a reverse Overseas Experience we look at non-New Zealanders who have no connection at all to this country. I would suggest that the America’s Cup yachties, Hollywood film crews and such be made to stump up.

And let us have a look at the reasons why some New Zealanders are coming home. Many have lost jobs and have little prospect of staying in their current locations. When COVID19 started they might have been told that their jobs were still secure, so they did not leave and simply toughed it out only to find that in the interim the employment ground they thought they stood on has shifted. Given the increasingly politically volatile nature of many places popular with New Zealanders long term, staying there might not be an option any longer for simple reasons of safety. One has to look no further than Hong Kong, where even if one has not participated in any recent protests, the imposition of the National Security Law means if the Chinese authorities suspect you, harsh times await you in the Chinese justice system. For that reason, no one can blame New Zealanders living in Hong Kong if they suddenly no longer feel safe there.

So, my suggestion to the New Zealand Government is very simple. It needs to be extremely careful about how it handles this. New Zealanders overseas are not necessarily coming home because they suddenly thought “I’ll jump on a plane and go home”. They are coming home because their employer said “sorry, the job we thought we could save for you no longer exists”, or because the fear of a knock on the door from authorities no longer constrained by democratic rule is now realistic.

It’s not simply about “having a holiday” as some misinformed individuals seem to think.