This has forced National to adapt it’s “tough on crime” cliches to the current microscopic threat against our wellbeing. National is now “tough on covid“.
The phrasing is slightly altered, but the “tough on XYZ” image is not changed or diluted one iota. It is appealing to it’s rump base and to those New Zealanders who are pissed of at quarantine fence-jumpers; resent having to use their taxes to pay for Returnees’ quarantining; and or who feel that quarantine procedures/testing have been too lax, whether for Returnees or Border staff.
This is all fertile soil upon which National can sow its seeds of resentment and fear, and harvest a rich crop of votes.
They have not disappointed.
Their latest Border Protection policy – issued “only” six months after the first recorded case of Covid19 in Aotearoa New Zealand on 28 February – is a study in punitive restrictions; over promising; vagueness; and… of course, very much business-friendly.
It is also a masterpiece of deflection.
The document has been widely presented with the main msm narrative that all Returnees planning to board an aircraft must first present a negative covid test;
True to her “crusher” form, Opposition Leader Judith Collins has presented a staunch – almost authoritarian figure – determined to keep covid19 out of Aotearoa New Zealand;
“We will make sure that it is legal because … we will change the law if necessary.
We know that there will be some concerns about the Bill of Rights Act and peoples’ human rights, we understand that. And we also understand that this is always a balancing situation between the rights of an individual who may be feeling that they shouldn’t have to have a test to come back into New Zealand, but let’s look at it this way, right at the moment the law has been changed so when they are here they have penalties. So what’s the problem?
The answer surely must be. We don’t want Covid-19, and no New Zealander wants Covid-19 here.”
Those unable to get pre-tested and obtain a negative would not be allowed back into the country, according to Ms Collins.
However, aside from the sheer illegality of such a draconian step, the practicality and certainty of pre-testing Returnees prior to boarding their flights back home has been questioned.
More than one person has pointed out it is possible to be asymptomatic and return a negative result – only to test positive later. Or to contract the virus in-flight, from others.
Ms Collins and National’s health spokesperson, Dr Shane Reti, both insist this policy has been written in consultation with epidemiologists. Neither have disclosed who those epidemiologist(s) are.
Said Ms Collins;
“We have epidemiologists who are working with us. I’m not going to name them…”
Dr Reti also declined to name them;
“We’re grateful for those networks of trust and those relationships. If they want to identify themselves, they will.”
Let’s hope it was not Dr Thornley, a maverick epidemiologist who has touted the “herd immunity” option and praised Sweden’s strategy of allowing the virus to sweep through the population. (Even though Sweden’s death toll from covid19 now stands at a staggering 5,810 – despite that country having only twice our population.)
However, a closer scrutiny of National’s policy documents “Securing New Zealand’s border against COVID-19” and it’s in-depth version “Securing Our Border“, reveals that there is a ‘fish hook’ in their policy on handling covid-19.
The latter document, “Securing Our Border” contains just four short references to the complex (and probably unworkable) suggestion that New Zealanders be pre-tested prior to returning home;
Receiving returning Kiwis and visitors at the border, and ensuring pre-border checks for people coming into New Zealand. (p2)
National would follow international models and require people coming into the country to not only quarantine but also receive a test for COVID-19, or a subsequent pandemic virus, three days before departure and provide the results of that test to airline staff before boarding their plane. (p3)
National would […] Require people travelling to New Zealand to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test before arriving into New Zealand. (p3)
National would […] [Require] Pre boarding thermal imaging and completion of health declaration card. (p3)
It is interesting to note that there is no reference made whatsoever to what would happen to a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident if they tested positive for covid19. The policy document does not address this critical point.
When it comes to lock-downs and business needs, the document is more fulsome. Note the highlighted parts:
Preparing for a more effective response to future outbreaks, should they occur. Lockdowns, if needed, can be more targeted shorter in duration, while protecting our most vulnerable. (p1)
Facilitating planning with businesses to ensure safe practices. Specifically tailoring plans for small business, retailers and manufacturers. (p2)
This report, and the examples of high-quality contact tracing and testing systems internationally, provide confidence that similar systems in New Zealand could allow for less intrusive lockdowns in the event of an isolated outbreak. (p4)
National would implement the following […] Ensuring consistency and capacity within the contact tracing system is critical to achieving the goals of a rapid contact tracing system that would help manage any isolated incidents of COVID-19 beyond the border and to limit the need of intensive lockdowns across the country. (p4)
If lockdowns do occur, we must help our economy so that commerce can continue through lockdowns and people can continue work. […] Lockdowns are a short-term intervention that come at a tremendous cost to businesses and our economy. In the long term, New Zealand cannot afford to shut down or slow our entire economy even if there is a localised incursion. (p6)
National is concerned the lessons of the first lockdown were not closely studied to provide an improved response during the August lockdown. Continuous improvement of our systems is required so that lockdowns become more targeted and effective, with minimal impact on our communities and the economy. For example, where small businesses like butchers and greengrocers can demonstrate and implement or plan to operate safely, they should be allowed to do so. (p6)
In a press statement, National’s Covid-19 Border Response spokesperson, Gerry Brownlee, reaffirmed his Party’s intention to localise lockdowns (alt.link);
“Continuous improvement of our systems is required so that lockdowns become more targeted and effective, with minimal impact on our communities and the economy.”
Almost every paragraph contains a reference to limiting lockdowns. The terms “isolated outbreak“, “localised incursion”, “less intrusive lockdowns”, and “lockdowns become more targeted” are suggestive of National pursuing the failed limited ‘post-code’-based lockdowns in various Melbourne suburbs that were utterly ineffectual to contain their current outbreak;
…the current restrictions still allow significant movement of people between suburbs and to work. Face-to-face teaching in schools is still permitted, and there is no limit on the number of people in supermarkets and shopping centres.
This was National’s coded message to the business community: that under a National government, any lockdown would be localised and not encompass an entire city. As much as they could get away with, it would be business-as-usual.
The over-hyped references to pre-testing returning New Zealanders (without disclosing what would happen if they failed a covid test) was a noisy distraction so the media and the public would look elsewhere, missing the true message buried within the text of the policy document.
But the business community would have read the document. They would have noticed the carefully nuanced references to “less intrusive lockdowns”, and “lockdowns become more targeted” and understood the meaning perfectly well.
Under a National Government, the economy would take priority. End of.
National learned its lesson when it endorsed allowing foreign students to return to this country. At a time when our MIQ (Mandatory Isolation and Quarantine) facilities were struggling to cope with nearly 40,000 Returnees – Universities were noisily agitating to allow foreign students back in.
The suggestion was that Universities would look after their own quarantine facilities;
Victoria University of Wellington has a plan for international students’ quarantine it will put to government, in the hope students will be allowed back before the border reopens.
Victoria University of Wellington vice-chancellor Grant Guilford said they had had a plan since late February for a strict quarantine.
The university had identified three facilities in the capital that could take students.
Quarantine would be supervised by university staff and possibly public health officials as well.
Only a few days ago (19 August), Universities were still touting and pressuring the government to re-admit foreign students into Aotearoa New Zealand;
Universities New Zealand chief executive Chris Whelan said Australia was following in the footsteps of places like Canada and the United Kingdom by bringing international students back.
New Zealand risked being left behind if students could not return by early next year, and it could take 10 years for the international student sector, which is worth $5 billion to the economy annually, to get back on track.
He believed the Australian programme could work in New Zealand.
We can all guess how that would turn out.
Not very well, would be the correct answer.
In case anyone was in doubt, this is how such a scenario might play out if Universities got their way;
First week: foreign students enter the country. They are taken to quarantine hotels run by Victoria University staff and private security guards in Wellington. The public is assured all students will remain in strict quarantine; not mingle; not leave the facility; obey protocols,etc, etc, etc…
Second week: first reports in the media of students partying; mingling; co-habiting; venturing out to bottle stores to buy alcohol and pizza. Security guards unable to stop them: they do not have police powers. University staff: nowhere to be seen.
Third week: more reports of partying and absconding. Local Wellington apartment dwellers tell media students are coming and going without hindrance.
Fourth week: first cases of covid19 detected in Wellington. Source “unclear”.
Fifth week: more cases of covid19 detected. Source identified through genomic sequencing as coming from student in one of the hotel facilities.
Sixth week: University management blame “systemic failures” and “undertake to review systems/protocols”.
Seventh week: Wellington goes into Level 3 lockdown. Blogger writes shortest blogpost ever: “I f*****g told you so!”
It’s always “systemic failures”;
It’s always “Systemic Failure” – which conveniently means no one will ever be held to account; no one will lose their job. Apparently it’s never human accountability because someone stuffed up and promised something they simply couldn’t deliver.
When foreign students from one of the country’s University’s reintroduces covid19 into the community – it will be a “systemic/systems failure”.
In June, National enthusiastically supported Universities having foreign students return to the country;
A National Government would be working hard to safely return tertiary international students back to New Zealand as quickly as possible, Deputy Leader and Education spokesperson Nikki Kaye and National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson Dr Shane Reti say.
Only two months later, National fully reversed it’s policy 180 degrees and have now dropped it like a hot potato. Public reaction would not have been supportive of such a risky venture – a fact National’s internal polling and/or focus groups would have sheeted home without any ambiguity whatsoever.
On top of which, having potentially infected foreign students entering the country, creating new clusters, would have undermined the revised narrative that new National leader, Judith Collins, was feeding the public;
“We’ve said very clearly since I’ve been the leader that there is no tolerance for Covid-19 in New Zealand. I’ve heard lots of reports from some people that we should be much softer on this, I’m not prepared to be softer on this,” Collins said.
You can only let people in if it can be done safely. And safely means someone checking the checkers.”
She says that so well, so convincingly. Almost with sincerity.
But a Leader who is willing to leave our fellow sick New Zealanders stranded overseas is not one to be trusted to look after the well-being of the rest of us. Her “compassion” and concern for our safety cannot be foremost in her mind when she so casually turns her back on sick New Zealanders in time of their greatest need.
Ms Collins’ media minders have obviously noted Prime Minister Ardern’s concern for our safety and well-being – and have tried to transplant it on the National Party Leader.
It is not a good fit.
National have read the tea leaves; the chicken entrails; and most critically, public opinion: very few New Zealanders want to risk reintroducing covid19. So they have written their Border Protection policy accordingly… but with that one, little ‘fish hook’ they snuck in, without anyone noticing.
And just to leave the gates open just a fraction for a future incoming National Government, they have given themselves an ‘out’ in that same Border Policy document:
In the shorter term, the [Border Protection] agency will administer policy and procedures for:
Considering expansion of entry qualifications and timing. (p2)
“Expansion of entry qualifications“… for who? Foreign fee-paying students?
New Zealanders should be careful in voting for National. They have have made it clear where they place their priority, whether it be human lives and safety – or the economy.
If you guessed “human lives and safety”, you guessed wrong.
Wikipedia: 2002 New Zealand general election
Otago Daily Times: Nats want everyone entering NZ to test negative to Covid first
The Spinoff: Live updates, August 22 – Six new cases of Covid-19 in the community (see: 10.15am entry)
Mediaworks/Newshub: Coronavirus – Has Sweden’s COVID-19 approach paid off?
Worldometer: Coronavirus – Sweden
National Party: Securing Our Border
NZ Family Violence Clearing House: Health and Disability Commissioner finds “systemic failing” at DHB in child abuse case
National Party: Under National international students would be back (alt.link)
Twitter: @fmacskasy – 1.41PM Jun 15, 2020
Previous related blogposts
Acknowledgement: Sharon Murdoch
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