Life in Lock Down: Day 28 – An Open Letter to Prime Minister Ardern

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April 22: Day 28 of living in lock-down…

An Open Letter to Prime Minister Ardern

TDB Recommends NewzEngine.com

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Kia ora Ms Ardern,

Firstly, let’s set one thing pretty well straight before launching into the point of this letter to you. You, your government colleagues, and hard working civil servants have done an amazing job in navigating us through this crisis. History will remember the strong but compassionate leadership our country has had the great fortune to have.

We could just as well have had the likes of Bolsonaro, Orbán, or Trump leading us.

You have led us through ‘Hurricane Covid19’ nearly flawlessly, considering humanity hasn’t experienced an event like this since the 1918 Influenza pandemic. Nearly flawlessly. There have been ‘stumbles’ along the way. The problem of issuing PPEs is an irritant that refuses to go away.

But perhaps the ‘stumble’ that may yet be the worst is the exemption given to Air New Zealand not to isolate flight crew after they have completed an overseas assignment.

This first came to my attention on 21 April on RNZ’s Checkpoint. The story, in brief;

The airline’s crews who fly internationally continue to be exempt from the strict 14-day quarantine rules for people returning to New Zealand from overseas – with the exception of Los Angeles flights.

On Monday the airline confirmed crew members had been forced to self-isolate after some staff allegedly disregarded physical distancing rules during a layover in Vancouver. 

Documents obtained by Checkpoint show increasing unease and fear among flight crew staff about the exemption from isolation or quarantine, and the risk it poses to colleagues and the public.

Air New Zealand is currently operating 16 return international services a week. At the end of May it plans to add three return services a week to Shanghai to that schedule. 

To say that I  was utterly gobsmacked would be an understatement. I listened to the unfolding story with a growing horror; a rising anger; and a deep disappointment.

Let me explain. For the last four weeks we have been in Level 4 lock-down. This has separated friends and families. Closed non-essential businesses. Curtailed recreational and sporting activities. Borrowed billions to keep our economy afloat and society intact.  And thousands have lost their jobs.

The vast majority of New Zealanders heeded your call to stick to our “bubbles”.

You called on us;

“New Zealand, be calm, be kind, stay at home.

We can break the chain.”

You minded us time and again;

“Stay home, save lives.”

And you challenged us;

“… you may not be at work, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a job. Your job is to save lives, and you can do that by staying home, and breaking the chain.”

And the people you cheerfully referred to as “our team of five million” responded;

“Hell yeah, let’s do this!”

And we did. For the most part, people responded and made the sacrifices we knew in our hearts and minds were necessary to save lives.

But it was a battle that was not without many casualities. So many people found themselves suddenly unemployed. Some lost the businesses they had worked long hours to establish. And fourteen of our fellow New Zealanders lost their lives.

We retreated to our homes, venturing out only for food and exercise. Some of us – like myself – carried on working as we were as essential service. Which often meant our “bubble” became necessarily inflated to encompass our colleagues and those we cared for. Some of us were not successful in dodging the viral ‘bullet‘.

But we carried on, because, well, it had to be done.

As the lock-down progressed, there were calls to loosen the restrictions and allow more exemptions. Golfing greens (which was eventually allowed); surfing; hunting; butchers… There was quite a list. Aided and abetted by yammering voices from the National and ACT parties.

Though as any sensible person will tell you, the more businesses and recreational activities are open, the more ‘porous’ the lock-down becomes until it is a lock-down in name only. Cue covid19 to become rampant through the entire country.

Which was something wiser heads in our communities understood with crystal clarity;

“I don’t want the Muslim community to look like [they’re] insensitive, inconsiderate over the Covid-19 issue – that they’re just worried about the meat situation.

That is a picture I don’t want New Zealand to get because there there are people in the Muslim community who are actually worried about saving people’s lives in this state of emergency.

We should go with the available options because there are many people who are missing out on what they like to have. It’s not only the Muslim community who are missing out on halal meat, there are other communities missing out on what they want.” – Usman Afzali, 31

Mr Afzali was opposing calls for specialised Halal butchers to be given an exemption to the lock-down. Mr Afzali understood the consequences of permitting endless exemptions. He knew the price that would be demanded by the virus – and it would be a cost met by lives lost.

And I understand that. I really do. I’ve even supported my colleagues in a work situation where management who were not part of our facility’s “bubble” were point-blank denied entry. We have vulnerable clients and non-essential people were barred – no exemptions.

My ‘bubble’ consists of my flatmate; four colleagues (down from six) in our facility, plus our clients. (My flatmate’s ‘bubble’ is tiny, as she hardly knows anyone in the Greater Wellington Region.) My partner, who has her own house, is not part of my ‘bubble’. For four weeks we have not seen each other, except through the ‘Star Trekkian‘ marvel of ‘Zoom‘ technology.

We have taken your call to keep to our “bubbles” with utmost seriousness and urgency. We have not deviated. We have been staunch.

So after reading all that, you can understand, Ms Ardern, how absolutely gutted I felt when I read that Air New Zealand flight crews were returning to our country; disembarking from their aircraft; and… entering our community.

No fourteen week quarantine.  Nothing.

When challenged by RNZ, Air New Zealand responded;

“This is expert medical advice for all airlines to follow in New Zealand. If there are general concerns or questions about this advice then that is a matter for the Ministry of Health as they have established these standards.”

So the entire country is asked to go into stringent lock-down and when asked a legitimate question why Air New Zealand flight crews are exempt, we are given that corporate  gobbledegook-speak?!

Did anyone send a copy of that particular memo from Air New Zealand to the virus?

An un-named (for damned good reason) Air New Zealand employee reminded us;

“On 19 March, NZ5 arrived at Auckland from LAX on which three passengers tested positive for Covid-19, at least two crew later tested positive. A crew member from that flight, before testing positive, went down to Bluff to attend a wedding, and now we all know about the ‘Bluff cluster’.”

A person died from that ‘cluster’: the groom’s father.

The following day from that initial RNZ story, Air New Zealand disclosed that thirty employees have tested positive for covid19.

And yet you still allow Air New Zealand to be given an exemption?

Tangata whenua  going into the bush to shoot food for their whanau is considered a risk to transmission of covid19 – and it’s banned?

Whilst flight crews returning from Los Angeles, Shanghai, and god knows where from – are not exempt?!

Ms Ardern, I struggle to understand the logic to this, I really do. I’ve looked at it from every possible angle and all I can come up with is that Air New Zealand is part-owned by the government, with a massive $900 million bail-out loan extended to the company by Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

I really hope it’s not about saving an asset that the State has high stakes in. I really do. That would seem to be beneath your dignity to be party to such a venal deal.

So my question to you should be fairly obvious by now – or rather, two questions;

(1) Why: does Air New Zealand have the privilege of enjoying an exemption to a fourteen day quarantine when – out of all the businesses in this country – it is the riskiest one that could re-introduce covid19 to our shores? What makes Air New Zealand safer than someone going out shooting in the back-blocks?

(2) Why: have I bothered with my ‘bubble’; securing the facility where I work with vulnerable people; and foregone seeing my partner for nearly an entire month – when Air New Zealand flight crew could, at this very moment, be infected and spreading their contagion in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch?! Why have I bothered?

I really, really hope your reconsider the justifications you  offered at your 1pm ‘presser’ today (22 April). I really do.

Because if we managed to eliminate covid19 from our shores, only to have it reappear with new infections brought in by Air New Zealand flight crew – then it’s all been for nothing. Our efforts have been undermined because – and this is critical – no matter how many times we eliminate the virus, it will be reintroduced by flight crews who remain exempt for reasons that are beyond my understanding.

Singapore should be a clear lesson to us that this virus can return if we allow it even the smallest opportunity;

Fears have resurfaced about the ability of coronavirus to surge again after lockdowns are eased, as Singapore confirmed a sharp rise in new infections.

One of the worst-hit countries when the virus first spread from China in January, Singapore’s strict surveillance and quarantine regime helped slow the outbreak, but recent rises in locally transmitted cases have raised fresh concerns. Singapore reported 142 new infections on Wednesday.

When we move to Alert Level 3 I will be seeing my partner again. I’m even tempted to go to the beach, if we’re lucky to have any fine days left.

I’ve done my bit. God knows I have.

But this is beyond me.

Please reconsider Air New Zealand’s exemption. It’s not worth it.

 

Current covid19 cases: 1,451

Cases in ICU: 2 (0 critical)

Number of deaths: 14

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References

RNZ: Air NZ silent about Covid-19 cases as staff fears grow over quarantine exemption

RNZ:  Air NZ silent about Covid-19 cases as staff fears grow over quarantine exemption (video)

NZ Herald:  Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – ‘Your job is to save lives, and you can do that by staying home’

BBC: Coronavirus: How New Zealand relied on science and empathy

Newsroom:  One third of new Covid-19 cases are health workers

Fairfax/Stuff: Golf clubs could perish if greenkeepers barred from caring for greens

Change.org: Allow Responsible Surfing in New Zealand

RNZ: Covid-19: Whānau relying on hunting for food should have exemption – leaders

Rural News:  Pork farmers want butchers to start trading

Fairfax/Stuff: Coronavirus – Community safety trumps access to halal meat, Muslim man says

RNZ:  Father of groom in Bluff wedding dies from Covid-19

RNZ:  Covid 19: What happened in New Zealand on 22 April

RNZ: Air NZ silent about Covid-19 cases as staff fears grow over quarantine exemption

RNZ: Coronavirus: Government offers $900m loan for Air New Zealand

The Guardian: Singapore coronavirus surge raises fears of post-lockdown breakouts

RNZ:  Six new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, one more death

Must Read

Democracy Now:  Madrid’s Ice Rink Turned to Morgue as Spain Exceeds China in Coronavirus Deaths

The Independent:  Is Sweden having second thoughts on lockdown?

Elemental: Hold the Line

RNZ:  Bubble-bound: Data shows most people obeying rules

Other Blogs

Will New Zealand Be Right?

Previous related blogposts

The Warehouse – where everyone gets a virus

Life in Lock Down: Day 1

Life in Lock Down: Day 2

Life in Lock Down: Day 3

Life in Lock Down: Day 4

Life in Lock Down: Day 5

Life in Lock Down: Day 6

Life in Lock Down: Day 7

Life in Lock Down: Day 7 (sanitised version)

Life in Lock Down: Day 8

Life in Lock Down: Day 8 (sanitised version)

Life in Lock Down: Day 9

Life in Lock Down: Day 10

Life in Lock Down: Day 11

Life in Lock Down: Day 12

Life in Lock Down: Day 13

Life in Lock Down: Day 14

Life in Lock Down: Day 15

Life in Lock Down: Day 16 – Bad Friday

Life in Lock Down: Day 17

Life in Lock Down: Day 18

Life in Lock Down: Day 19

Life in Lock Down: Day 20

Life in Lock Down: Day 21

Life in Lock Down: Day 22 – Is that a light at the end of a four week long tunnel?!

Life in Lock Down: Day 23

Life in Lock Down: Day 24 & 25

Life in Lock Down: Day 27 – and it’s been a shit day

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covid19

 

Acknowledgement: Rod Emmerson

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This blogpost will be re-published  on “Frankly Speaking“. Reader’s comments may be left here (The Daily Blog) or there (Frankly Speaking).

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18 COMMENTS

  1. Good letter Frank as usual.

    Can we add our concerns here also please for the UNITE union’s workers cocerns posted yesterday please as it is also frought with a similar theme as the AIR NZ case is forused on today, with ‘bad planning for public and worker safety’

    https://thedailyblog.co.nz/2020/04/22/takeaways-under-level-3-not-so-fast/#comment-502294

    UNITE your concerns are very valid – you are so very right here.
    “It’s not an exaggeration to say that many fast food workers are genuinely in fear for their health and safety next week.” Yes UNITE you are so very right here.

    **Firstly Germany has made face marks completely mandatory as of today, as they reopen their lockdown, and we didn’t do this so we are very badly directed by the ministry of health and there ‘wonder boy’ “Director General” Andrew Bloomfield.

    **Jacinda was warned by us at CEAC back on 20th January to be ‘cautious; -https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO2001/S00041/ceac-calls-for-ministry-of-health-to-be-cautious.htm ;-

    **But she is an obstinate individual and ignored our advice then, until she got her ‘arse kicked’ when WHO finally came clean and said it was an emergency pandemic and to begin “test,test, test” but the dumb arsed Ministry of health is still not ramping up “mass testing” as Germany, south Korea Taiwan and other successful countries have to control a very roust “track and trace” to protect us all.

    *****Jacinda is badly advised by the Ministry of health and is about to ‘come before a fall’ sadly.

    ******This virus is highly infectious as the aerosols that ‘infected people breath out’ will actually be blown by the wind at least up to (22 metres) – (or 10 times the distance than we are told now said to be safe) – to anyone around them and this fact will ‘infect many’ more.

    **So to be completely safe we as workers and customers MUST completely avoid any 2 metre contact and stay much further apart than the non-sensible 2 meters as the experts have now found that is far to close.

    **A word to the wise; Jacinda take note here NOW;

    **This virus is more serious than thought by the Word Health Organisation say four research laboratories.
    https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/coronavirus/121172972/coronavirus-is-not-behaving-in-the-air-the-way-scientists-expect

    Coronavirus is not behaving in the air the way scientists expect
    Sherryn Groch05:42, Apr 22 2020
    QUOTE “The virus behind the world’s Covid-19 pandemic can stay infectious in the air for more than 12 hours, early research out of four major US laboratories suggests, as more scientists warn it may have been underestimated by authorities such as the World Health Organisation.”

    • “It’s not an exaggeration to say that many fast food workers are genuinely in fear for their health and safety next week.”

      Indeed Cleangreen. Having worked in the fast-food industry in my younger days, I can imagine. Even at the best of times, there was always a tiny minority who thought that serving staff were paid to take customers’ abuse. (They were usually told to get lost and if they refused, the police called promptly.)

      If fast food places open (for drive through only, I hope), they will require security personnel to keep an eye on things. Knowing human nature. 99% of people will be the Good Sorts. It’s the remaining 1% that will be a problem.

      Fast food industry owners could make up, in part, by paying staff a bonus during the Level 3 period. Or gift vouchers. Something.

      It’s little things like that that put a smile of peoples’ faces and know they are valued.

  2. Amazing letter!
    Sadly it will be brushed aside and ignored.
    Now I am seriously angry.
    All that goodwill JA built up…gone!

    • Thank you, Herman.

      Hopefully her comms people will notice it and bring it up.

      One thing I left out of my letter is the political aspect to this. The government has been exceedingly fortunate that this story has not “gained legs” and been taken up by other media. On top of which, this is something the Nats could really latch on to – I’m surprised they haven’t (thus far).

      If ever there was an issue for the Epidemic Response Committee to scrutinise, this is it.

  3. While on the subject of Air NZ another story bon the radio yesterday was about how they are not reimbursing passengers booked on cancelled flights but only giving them a credit with a use by date . They will not let this credit be used to pay for internal flights. At a time when many are desperate for money this seems unfair and as they are 1/2 owned by the government a bad move .
    While I do not always agree with your opinion you are not one sided. and you shine a light on the faults of both parties

    • “While on the subject of Air NZ another story bon the radio yesterday was about how they are not reimbursing passengers booked on cancelled flights but only giving them a credit with a use by date”

      I heard Kris Faafoi on RNZ today, regarding pasengers’ flights cancelled by Air New Zealand and not being given a refund.

      Mr Faafoi’s responses were utterly inadequate. At several points I thought I was hearing a Minister from the previous government.

      “While I do not always agree with your opinion you are not one sided. and you shine a light on the faults of both parties”

      And I will continue to do so, Mr Sennitt.

      Should there be a re-infection, and gods-forbid, a fatality from a re-infection, traced back to Air New Zealand staff, then I will be calling for resignations. And from the highest position of responsibility. All because it was avoidable.

  4. The reason that was given for not quarantining is that they didn’t seem to see it as being feasible. However with the recent stand-downs, they should be able to re-employ staff who had been let go, and to have everyone working on alternate rosters.

    As I wrote in an earlier comment, There are going to be so many people looking for work, surely those airlines still operating will be able to hire sufficient staff to allow them to work alternate shifts with quarantining between flights.

    There are trained and experienced pilots and cabin crew looking for jobs right now I think. Airlines have had huge layoffs, here and in Aus. So, it should be do-able.

  5. A well presented case, as usual with your writing, Frank.

    The blatant hypocrisy and potentially lethal consequences of the current non-quarantine policy beggars belief.

    We have to wonder what is really at the bottom of this piece of nonsense, bordering on utter stupidity.

    We have known for a long time that air transport has, for a long time, been a golden child of governments throughout the world (no taxes on fuels, no accountability for CO2 emissions and other potentially life-threatening emissions) and that tourism has been pushed by governments to extreme levels, despite it being an entire consumptive activity with an appalling environmental profile.

    We also know that aircraft have no long term future anyway, due to depletion of oil reserves (peak conventional extraction was around 2007, and unsavory extraction methods such as those utilized in fracking and tar sands extraction are not viable long term), AND we have the urgent need to curtail unnecessary emissions (we are at over 416 ppm CO2, nearly 140 ppm above the pre-industrial level, and still rising at a rate unprecedented in the geological record, with dire consequences for almost everyone on this planet in the future).

    Indeed, tourism is simply a mechanism for shifting fiat currencies from one location (or one bank account) to another, with no lasting benefit to anyone involved. Oh, I forgot: jobs, jobs, jobs!

    The more we learn about Covid-19 the more scary it becomes, insofar as there appear to be multiple strains, and people who have apparently recovered may still be carrying it.

    Having suffered the very nasty effects of shingles, I can attest to the nastiness of some viruses: shingles is the re-emergence of the chickenpox virus that affects children, a virus that ‘lurks’ in the nervous system for decades and then ‘chooses its moment’ to attack again.

    So yes Frank, WTF??!!! with Jacinda (or who ever is pulling her strings).

    • “The more we learn about Covid-19 the more scary it becomes, insofar as there appear to be multiple strains, and people who have apparently recovered may still be carrying it.”

      Nailed it, AFKTT. The more discovered about this virus, the more dangerous it seems to be.

      The most pertinent is that a carrier of covid19 can be infectious TWO DAYS BEFORE BECOMING SYMPTOMATIC. That is especially troubling when it comes to to international flights. A flight crewmember could be infected by the time s/he returns from Shanghai or Los Angeles and transmitting virus particles before the first symptoms appears.

      That’s one very effective mode of transmission.

      So for Air New Zealand hierarchy to suggest they’ll take action when someone is symptomatic is grossly disingenuous. Their Medical Officer will be painfully aware of how this virus transmits.

      So continuing to travel overseas and not quarantine their flight crews is nothing less than gross negligence.

      If this was the US, Air New Zealand could face ruin through multi-million dollar lawsuits should anyone be infected.

      It’s two days since I heard that RNZ story, and I am still mightily pissed off.

  6. Frank, Why not email copies of what you have written to all relevant MPs and to various members of the Press? (Try Tova, maybe 🙂 …she has a way of letting fly that gets results.)

    • Indeed, Gary. And churns the gut when reading about Air New Zealand’s management’s contemptuous attitude to this crisis…

      It puts a whole new meaning to privileged entitlement.

  7. I note Australia is in stage 3 control of covid-19 with industry and commerce still ongoing and people allowed out with controls to suppress this virus and New Zealand is in stage 4 lockdown.
    New Zealand population 4814699 as opposed to Australia population of 25442397, a multiple of 5.284317254.
    So with the New Zealand death toll currently at 16 – Australia if on an equal par would have a death toll of 84, yet it only has a total of 74 (including approximately 25 from cruise ships).
    Why is Australia doing so much better than New Zealand? Especially considering it had its first infection 5 weeks before New Zealand so basically it has a 5 week head start on infections and deaths?

Comments are closed.