Latest Hot Potato News
Aug 12, 2021
Covid 19 coronavirus: The political hot potato Jacinda Ardern refused to touch - and may not need to 12 Aug, 2021 05:00 PM 4 minutes to read Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and epidemiologist Sir David Skegg on who makes decisions on the borders, from today's Reconnecting New Zealanders to the World forum in Wellington. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and epidemiologist Sir David Skegg on who makes decisions on the borders, from today's Reconnecting New Zealanders to the World forum in Wellington. OPINION: Jacinda Ardern has fronted a very sensible, science-backed plan on how the borders may be carefully re-opened next year - but dodged answering what might end up being the most pertinent question. All going well, by early next year Ardern will sign off moving into the third step of the reconnecting plan in phases. Life will be largely what it is now, but with overseas travel for the fully vaccinated and different isolation requirements depending on risk. Step three will likely start with a trickle of the low, medium and high-risk travellers who can either avoid MIQ or do some form of isolation. That would be a step towards quarantine-free entry for anyone who is fully vaccinated. But a lot has to go right before then. Everyone has to have a chance to get vaccinated, and health systems need to be bolstered in anticipation of an inevitable outbreak. Read More A pilot to let a few hundred Kiwis self-isolate after a trip overseas will have to run well enough to provide confidence that a larger scheme could be implemented and monitored. The reconnecting plan may also get derailed if a new variant means opening up would threaten our elimination path. Advertisement Sir David Skegg says the Government's re-opening plans align with the science advice provided by the expert panel he chairs.Photo / Mark Mitchell Poor vaccination uptake would also do that, but a national target doesn't work because there are different consequences of infection for different people. So Ardern will be looking at three areas in particular: young adults (who can spread the virus quickly); the vulnerable, including the old, Māori, Pasifika, and those with comorbidities (who are more at risk of severe health outcomes); and any regional black spots, where an outbreak could explode more rapidly. Related articles Quick Read But she wouldn't say if low uptake in any of those areas would push back the first movements into step three, which is pencilled in for the first quarter of next year. She's even gone so far as to say, inexplicably, that it's not a political decision, even though step three would never get off the ground without the Prime Minister's say-so. Act leader David Seymour hasn't side-stepped that issue. He wants the borders starting to re-open at the start of next year regardless of who is or is not vaccinated . It's a natural fit for a party that preaches personal responsibility: if you don't get vaccinated, you shouldn't expect the Government to keep the borders closed to protect you. It's unsurprisingly not a position epidemiologist Sir David Skegg agrees with: "If we have a lot of unvaccinated people, our health system will be swamped. People with cancer won't be treated ... I hope we can be unselfish and care about each other, but we also need to care about the whole." Judging by her handling of the pandemic so far, you'd expect Ardern to stand with Skegg. Advertisement But it could be politically costly for her to say she's prepared to push back the plan because there are too many unvaccinated people in the West Coast, Golden Bay and Northland - areas of concern Ashley Bloomfield has previously identified. Saying so out loud might scare the kind of voter Ardern explicitly said she wanted to respect following her historic election win: National-leaning voters who ticked red for the first time. And it's a dilemma she can avoid, as long as high vaccination coverage transpires by the start of next year. To achieve that, every effort must be made to reach every eligible person in the right way - such as via Māori and Pasifika health providers, or with events like the recent vaccination festival in Porirua. Work must also progress on digital traveller declarations, plugging the ongoing vaccination and testing gaps at the border, and even the kind of e-bracelets for isolation-tracking that Rob Fyfe says he'd be prepared to wear. The Health Ministry is already working on things it has previously been resistant towards, including higher surge capacity for contact-tracing. Herd immunity is unattainable, so all of these measures will be vital to helping us keep what has been a world-leading, mostly Covid-free haven. They would also have the secondary benefit of allowing Ardern to avoid a certain political hot potato.