By Nathan Hotter
Opinion - Our Covid-19 response continues to show cracks. The fact that two individuals (who had just arrived in the country) were allowed to forgo usual restrictions and travel without being tested for coronavirus, demonstrates an error of judgement and is deeply concerning.
We have all paid a high price economically and mentally for our elimination of the virus. If mistakes like this are allowed to happen they could cost both our economy and our lives.
From a personal perspective it seems even more disappointing. My grandfather (Poppa) passed away during lockdown and we were unable to see him or attend his funeral. He understood the fact that we could not see him in hospital, and accepted it. Instead, we all wrote him letters.
Despite my disappointment those restrictions were still correct. It was deeply unfortunate I could not see my grandfather or support my grandmother. However, the risk of people getting sick and the possibility of more suffering was not worth it. Remembering someone who has died while killing more people does not seem like a reasonable demand. Though the comfort of everyone is important, what's more important at the moment is protecting people's lives, and ensuring our lockdown wasn't in vain.
A week prior to lockdown I arrived back from Taipei. The government told people to return as they were unsure of the situation, which is exactly what I did. Those who failed to return prior to lockdown did not listen to advice or the warnings offered and chose to remain overseas. That blame lies on them.
Our government has a duty to protect our citizens both here and abroad. In this case, every attempt was made to protect our citizens, but if someone ignores official advice, then they are at fault. There comes a point when the government must focus on those who are here without risking all of our lives.
- If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP - don't show up at a medical centre
Repatriating citizens is important but should also come at their cost. Any individuals coming into the country should be having to cover the costs of their arrival, if they did not pay attention to initial government advice then they should pick up their own tab. Having worked in Taiwan with Taipei City government for a couple of months, I was able to deeply appreciate their response.
Taiwan was on top of the game early. In February, whenever I entered a shop or mall my temperature would be checked and I would be provided with sanitiser. Mask wearing was also universal.
On my arrival home in early March the attitude here was completely blasé. The health workers at the airport were not wearing masks, did not check my temperature, or ask me whether I was unwell. I just had to fill out the contact form. Following my arrival I was only called once while in my isolation, two weeks later to check I wasn't sick.
From the reports coming out over the last few days it appears our response is still lacklustre. We have fought tooth and nail to rid our country of coronavirus, and we always knew the next vector would be through international arrivals as we opened up.
Yet at some level of government the seriousness of the issue appears to not be appreciated. Perhaps it comes down to a "she'll be right" attitude. Numerous mistakes continue to be made, despite the months to prepare for opening. Whatever the case, we need to up our game. It is unacceptable that isolation measures have been flaunted repeatedly.
Perhaps we need to ensure that all arrivals receive a negative test before boarding a flight, if positive they can then be treated and/or specifically quarantined on any flight if that becomes necessary.
That would ensure that a larger portion of arrivals are known to not be vectors and minimise our risk where possible. Those in isolation should be repeatedly checked. In Taiwan those in isolation were called and checked by the police on a daily basis over three months ago, well before we had any similar measures. It is time for us to get up to scratch.
* Nathan Hotter is a Fellow with the Global Island Partnership (GLISPA) and is about to start his Honours in International Relations at Victoria University of Wellington.