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.
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.