Dr Liz Gordon: At the Covid crossroads: return to level 4 now!


Maybe down here in the South Island we are some kind of neanderthal beasts, unable to comprehend all the clever arguments for letting the Covid virus have its way.

With the second-lowest vaccination levels in the country (as a DHB), there is a strong feeling here that decisions have been made that inevitably will bring the virus to us, and that we are not prepared for it. More particularly, we love our Covid-free status and do not want it lost. Go away, Covid. People are going to die unnecessarily.

There is little doubt that yesterday’s Covid numbers have sharpened attention on the policy that is being followed. You can’t blame prostitutes, or gangs, or persons of colour for the general spreadiness (oh joy, I haven’t found a good neologism for ages!) of the delta variant under relaxed conditions.

Oh there is a lot of blame about.  But the government has been put under huge pressure to re-open the country and I am afraid that it has buckled under that weight. It is only Jacinda and Co’s resolution to eliminate Covid in Aotearoa that had nearly tamed Delta in September (but Delta is a wild beast, not easily contained).

I know that sectors of our society, tourism and hospitality in particular, are in significant danger as a result of lockdown policies.  But, you know, the urgency to open up at this dangerous time is ill-judged, and some in the team of five million will pay the ultimate price for this.

If history records that Aotearoa chose to largely shut its doors for two years, dealing with the Covid outbreak by a combination of strict public-health measures and strong quarantine principles, thus keeping Covid numbers very low and saving untold lives, then I think that is a legacy that we can live with.

If history records that ever harsher voices were calling for the lockdown to end, for restrictions to be eased, for more cases to be experienced so that commerce might operate even as more people die, that is another thing altogether.

The numbers at the weekend should give the government pause, especially because the untraced outbreaks – cases without obvious links – are increasing quickly. 

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I sense very strongly that people, including the health sector, are gearing up for a widely spread viral onslaught that is going to overwhelm our hospitals and make many of us ill.  It will kill some of us, especially the unvaccinated but also some vaccinated who are vulnerable.

There are drugs that can save lives now available, but of course Pharmac is always years behind in getting access to cutting edge medications. 

This is a country being bullied by the for-profit sector to let a virus in, and let it spread, well before we are ready for it. 

The world is very sick.  Thirteen million people have caught Covid-19 in the past month (that we know of) and 222,000 have died (ditto). Total known deaths from the pandemic will reach five million later this month. New variants are emerging.

Other countries are ignoring the threat and trying to get back to’ normal’. It is not particularly going well. Covid is not like a shunned society partner.  Ignoring it does not make it go away.  Do we want to enter November with 1,000 cases per day, or have our hospitals overwhelmed by Christmas? Do we want to see off our frail elderly before their time?

I don’t know what the feeling is up the top end, but down here in Te Waipounamu we want you to go hard again, Jacinda.  We can see a train wreck coming and we think you can still stop it. We have seen, as you have, the cacophony of voices calling for you to open up, but we think there is a silent majority saying – for goodness sake, save our lives, do the vaccine stuff, get drugs in to save lives and prepare us slowly and gently to open up at around (say) March 2022, with massive safeguards in place.

We do not want to be tossed in the deep end when we are so ill-prepared for it.  Down here we think the price will be too high. Perhaps it is time for us to cut the cable, stop the ferries and turn the South Island into a Covid-free sanctuary, if you insist on pursuing policies that look foolhardy to us.


Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society. She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.


  1. Lockdown fatigue is very real and it makes people take silly risks. We in the North are jealous of you in the South but you can’t sit there and expect others to lockdown interminably for your peace of mind. Sorry, that’s just the way it is, and I don’t live in Auckland.

    • Who do they think the lockdown is hurting most? The comfy, flabby bourgeoisie with their overdrafts, credit crads, and six-figure home equity? No, it is the working poor who just can’t survive on the hopelessly meager wage subsidy. Who does the ivory tower commentariat think is showing the strongest disregard for current lockdown protocols?

      On this matter we are united on more than anything I’ve seen in my lifetime, rich and poor alike – no more level 4 (at least without a very substantial boost in economic support for the working class). We did our best, we held the barbarians at the gates long enough for people to get vaccinated, and they have no right to ask any more of us. Whatever failings are evident regionally are not our fault. It was not us granting fraudulent travel exemptions or operating a loosy-goosy border and MIQ – unfortunately, the time has come for the rest of the team to do their bit. Don’t poke this bear with a stick anymore, you wont turn us into some Escape From New York style dystopia. It wont work, people on the outside looking in at us like miserable zoo creatures in a cage need to understand that. Look to your selves now.

      • There are not enough people vaccinated. Double jabbed is the only measure that matters. It’s about half, roughly. Playing with Delta will end badly. Not Aucklands fault but it is the epicentre, the spread is outwards from there. This is turning into another neo liberal clusterfuck. The battlers not getting enough while the rich pricks want to travel. Kia Kaha.

  2. I agree with Garibaldi.

    Not only has Auckland endured one or two too many heavy lockdowns (don’t forget in this latest version, it’s nearly 8 weeks of severe restrictions and little freedom to travel far) but my faith in our adhoc “she’ll do” quarantine system has gone. Reality is if it hasn’t leaked out already since early August it’s definitely going to leak out again.

    Our criminal community along with the dispossessed whose indifference to restrictions and anyone else who comes into contact with them were and are ripe for the picking with the super infectious Delta variant. And no level lockdown with weak to non existent enforcement will suffice.

    We’re very much in the “if only” phase. 18 months squandered by a government who only acts when something smacks them in the face was never the ideal model for a virus as contagious as this.

    By the way, internally, Auckland is just getting on with it minus the ability to leave the city, retail freedom and the hospitality. It may be level 3 in name but its level 1 otherwise. Aucklanders are now beyond it. Sorry, the vast majority of us tried, we really did!

  3. “The biggest issue, and where the Government has clearly dropped the ball, is ICU capacity. After the first lockdown last year, it should have moved quickly to create a special visa class to get ICU specialists into the country. It did not.

    This is an astonishing failure, given that the clear capacity constraint in the system – testing, contact tracing, isolation, hospital care – was always going to lie in providing and staffing ICU facilities.”


  4. Today, health officials.
    Today, not next week, next month, or after the next committee meeting.
    Today is the day you execute plans to build/prepare/bring online extra ICU capacity in our main centres.
    Covid is not waiting, deliberating over budgets.
    And please, for the love of all you hold dear, treat your staff with respect. Resource and renumerate them well for the looming campaign.
    The battle of elimination is lost. The war against Covid is about to begin.

    • Thanks Pat, this virus can be stomped on. It is possible. We need to tell the capitalists to go fuck themselves.
      Sign it, takes only a few seconds.

      • Tell me. When level 3 or 4 lockdowns occur, do you still get paid? Unless you have skin on the game, and have been hammered financially, you would probably not be saying those things.

          • Is that all you’ve got? 100 people die every day in New Zealand but only a 90 year old with extreme health conditions gets a mention from the PM, and in the last 2 months the other 6,000 who’ve passed away no mention. I’ve had far more serious illnesses than Covid, and I didn’t need a test to know I had it…

  5. The biggest failure was the way the Government did not use our relative long period of virus free time to build up ICU resources and the like.

    For me it shows a worrying lack of dynamic thinking and initiative needed to make sure we are not playing catch up with the results of the pandemic and instead were prepared for the inevitable. We all knew it would only be a matter of time until delta arrived here

  6. Unless the death rates skyrocket (over 10 a day) due directly to Covid — no massive underlying health conditions, i.e. person in their 90s, chain smoker, history of heart attacks, etc…etc…then NO level 4.
    It is gloomy in Auckland, with the life being sucked out of the region due to Government over reach.

    • You should stand for parliament. You have the solutions, stand.

      At the moment, if the government were to go with your idea, they carry the risk, not you. So as I say, 2023 is your chance.

  7. Great article. The government has disgustingly given in to warping business owners. Sorry, but your business failing means nothing against the loss of lives that our elderly and vulnerable are about to have inflicted on them. If your business is at all viable, you will easily be able to use your suss to build it up again at a later date or start a new venture. Its only money, you can not eat it or smoke it. But those lives lost are lost forever. It is worth your business failing if it saves even one life.

    Move Auckland back to level 4. Use police and armed forces to put a ring around the filthy bloody virus and stamp it out. No one (and I mean no one) gets out of the ring without a 14 day quarantine and negative tests, same as MIQ. So Auckland becomes one giant MIQ. Now shrink the ring and squeeze it right out. Use harsh temporary measures to eliminate it. The short term sacrifice business owners make will be worth it for everyone in the long-term.

    Eliminate covid. Sit back in paradise and learn from the rest of the worlds mistakes. Wait for better medical advancements. In future NZ and other COVID free islands can then link up and promote themselves as covid free luxury destinations.

  8. Just prepare for another poor decision from the politicians.
    They’re putting economic-political decisions ahead of ‘Health’ priorities.

    Get ready for more hospitalisations, putting more stress on the health system infrastructure and workers.
    Also more death and more locations of interest because of contagion.

    The UK and the other Leper States are perfect examples of where governments have got it badly wrong and the death toll is ridiculously high and unnecessary.

    • Pedant time. Unnecessary is the wrong word, there is no space in NZ minds for considering ‘necessary’ covid cases. The right word to use is preventable or avoidable.

  9. You all forget that this covid ‘problem’ is of Auckland’s making NOT Christchurch, Invercargill or Waikikamukau. You wanted the trans Tasman bubble, you needed the trans Tasman bubble and by hoki you were gonna get the trans Tasman bubble.

    And you fucked it up.

    You broke the very simple rules for safety and welcomed Delta into NZ.

    And you don’t like it because it’s difficult and inconvenient.

    Clean up your own neoliberal mess.

    And all you right wingers who want the borders open: How many deaths is acceptable to you…

    Not all of us subscribe to your lunatic economic theories and not all of us are bleeding with you.

    Play by the rules or die.

    Your choice.

    • That rates as the most fuckwit comment thus far.

      Aucklands making? Hate to ruin your day but plenty of people who wanted to go overseas don’t come from Auckland. They come from towns you name and we have to put up with them transiting through Auckland whether we wanted them or not.

      If you want to play the team card, what city has the international border at their doorstep? Auckland! Were we asked? No.

      Who, without any choice in the subject, had to bear the brunt of this border and the huge risk it carries? Auckland.

      Where were these decisions made? Wellington.

      Who lobbied for them? The likes of the National and ACT parties with their support wanks like Mike Hosking. And plenty of entitled infantile people who want to pretend everything is normal.

      Maybe if the South Island towns you named stepped up and shared the love, Auckland wouldn’t be locked down! But they never do.

      Get over it, it’s coming your way. Embrace it!

    • The last time I looked Covid was not the only cause of death in New Zealand, and in fact 100 people die everyday without Covid. Yet no one is calling for the abolishment of cars, completely banning cigarettes or the elimination of fatty foods. Hell some skier died on the slopes a few days ago, we haven’t closed down every ski field in the country.

      Life my friend has risks, and you have more chance of dying today than winning the lottery. Can you explain then why a fully vaccinated person in, for example, Western Australia cannot come home? WA has very low Covid rates over a vast track of land, and if these vaccines are so wonderful, why is there no distinction between a fully vaccinated person and an anti-vax moron? Are they not supposed to be put ticket to freedom?

  10. According to some it’s the filthy Auckland business owners who are the problem. They’ve forced the government to do what it didn’t want. Grow up people. If you get the feel of what’s happening it’s all the people in Auckland that are over it. Not just business people. The government doesn’t have to buckle to any pressure, unless it’s frightened of becoming unpopular. The South Island should have been at level one with double jab restrictions on who goes there. Who hasn’t done this, the Government. I suspect if that were the case there would have been whining from down there that not enough Auckland people were travelling there. I don’t come from Auckland and I’m not a business person.

  11. On current policy settings it will go to 100 day this month.

    With the government still signalling an easing down of restrictions, it has snookering itself into meeting expectations of doing this by November and so cases look likely to reach 1000 a day in December.

    I just hope those with health vulnerabilities are part of the plans for boosters and health workers too – given the likelihood break through infections could decimate that workforce.

  12. Hi all. Buckle up everyone, it’s wartime. I’m in Tauranga. A work colleague is heading to Dunedin in a couple of days (double vaxxed very recently). Flatmate heading to Whakatane for work tomorrow (also double vaxxed). I expect Tauranga will have confirmed cases shortly. Flatmates girlfriend was turned away at checkpoint by police at coastal Matata late yesterday afternoon, sighting Katikati case (now confirmed negative). Popo once again thinking they are the law rather than enforcers. Matata was level 2 same as Tauranga, still is.

    Buckle up everyone, it’s hairy as from here on in for a bit. Please encourage all of yours to get vaccinated. Ask questions if you have worries. We are in it together. Your bubble connect’s with all of our bubbles. Get it done Aotearoa NZ! Cheers

    • Too true. We have been living in a promised land – the promise of eradication. Stamp out the outbreaks. Go hard with urgency. Don’t get me wrong, a strategy worth pursuing given our particular context – and the advantage of observation. But the more cynical might be heard to say eradication by itself could never be a sustainable long term goal. It was far more relevant prior to the vaccination rollout and the prospect of public health meltdown. To be fair, it was signalled the term had shifting semantics.

      Now what? Even with DHB’s better prepared and vaccination rates growing but still patchy and unequitable, well, the modelling says it all. Some of it reporting the worst case scenario for sure but either way the future looks a bit different than the past 18 months.

  13. Great Post Dr Jordon.

    From it I can’t but think this is an action replay of the whole neoliberal adventure in miniature, but with the Grim Reaper rubbing his hands in glee.

    That the freedom of a free, out-ways the freedom of the many.

    After 40 years of their gambling, fool hardness and rank open class warfare we are now at the pointy end.

    Liberals have to wake up to the fact they have skin in the game, and the rich and wealthy just don’t give a rats about anything but themselves. The rich have proven they a amoral and self absorbed. They care little for who dies, and their little lap dogs yap, yap, yap, the party when given the barest of scraps.

    I wonder if the dead bodies in the streets will make a difference, but I some how doubt it.

    neoliberalism is a callous ideology, it devotees are so self absorbed, nothing we have seen so far can make them embrace humanity.

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