Saturday, February 27, 2021

Here we go again, again. Again.

This evening Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that—yet again—Auckland will move to Covid Alert Level 3 at 6am Sunday morning, and the rest of New Zealand will move back to Alert Level 2. Here we go again, again. Again.

This is happening, the Prime Minister said, because the latest case of Covid has no immediate transmission link with the latest Auckland cluster, the same cluster that caused the city’s Level 3 lockdown two weeks ago. What that means is that there could be undetected wider community transmission.

What greatly complicates this situation is that apparently the young man failed to follow requirements to self-isolate, potentially putting hundreds of others at direct risk, and potentially thousands more after that. This left the prime minister “frustrated”, which sounds like a bit of an understatement.

The government has repeatedly said that our system is based on a high level of trust, but what if people can’t be trusted? Tonight the prime minister reminded us that the government has the power and legal authority to enforce the rules “if we need to”. But she also said something similar to what she’s said so many times before: "We still need an environment where people will speak up and come forward and be tested." That’s a false equivalence: People could face prosecution for failing to obey a public health directive, not for testing positive. Clearly there’s something else going on here.

My Lefty friends are trying to shift the focus on to employers who allegedly don’t allow employees to take time off for mandatory isolation, presumably by threatening their pay or even their employment. It seems to me that, if it’s true, that would be a very strong motivator for low-income workers to disobey the rules. And, if all that’s true, then surely those bad employers could be prosecuted for obstructing a public health order.

Thing is, none of that matters: Someone made a choice to break the rules, thereby potentially endangering us all, and there must be consequences for doing that. I don’t know enough about this case (nor do any of us) to say that prosecution is warranted, but at the very least it could be used as a final warning to everyone: Do this sort of thing, and you will be prosecuted, no exceptions.

This also underscores the need for change. People in quarantine should be in a purpose-built facility in a remote area. I understand that the government has dismissed the idea because of cost and staffing concerns, but I think that’s foolish: This will NOT be the last pandemic we face, and we need to be prepared. If such a facility existed, then those required merely to isolate could be placed into the facilities now used for managed isolation, because we can’t afford to risk one infectious person breaking the rules.

New Zealand got to the remarkably free position it was in because the vast majority of people played by the rules. ALL of that is threatened by as few as one infectious person breaking the rules everyone else follows. Business, society, and our collective mental health cannot endure constant yo-yoing through Alert Levels, certainly not because some arsehole chose to break the rules. Yes, people make mistakes, and yes we have to be compassionate in looking at their circumstances, but all choices, good and bad, have consequences, and choices that could kill people should get a bit more than a finger wag and “naughty!” said in a most stern whisper.

None of which absolves the rest of us. Every time I go out, I ALWAYS use the Covid Tracer App to record where I go. Always. Without fail. Always. Others? Not so much. Most times I go anywhere, I’m the ONLY one scanning in.

Tonight, 8,000 people attended a boxing match in Auckland, something that was popular with many of the people in the community affected by this outbreak. I feel confident is assuming that hardly anyone scanned in. Tonight in Hamilton, a crowd of some 25,000 attended the sold-out Six60 concert. How many of them bothered to scan in? That, too, would have been attended by people from the affected communities in Auckland. Could one or both become super-spreader events? Several days from now we’ll find out, but that latter one puts me at direct risk because I might encounter an infected person at, say, a supermarket. Multiply that by tens of thousands throughout the region, and we could face a massive outbreak, all because one person didn’t follow the rules.

New Zealand succeeded in controlling Covid in part because of widespread community support and cooperation. It is inevitable that, for whatever reason, some people won’t. By the vast majority who are (mostly) following the rules won’t long tolerate coddling those who (mostly) do not.

I think the government made the right call to move up Alert Levels. I also think that they now have to make the hard choices to keep us all safe and to reinforce the value of obeying the rules. That could well include prosecution of rule-breakers, but, at the very least, there have to be consequences of some sort for those who break the rules.

The slightly cropped image up top is a screenshot of the emergency alert I got on my phone this evening. I was quietly watching TV, and not using any of my devices, when the Emergency Alert went off on my phone. Scared the fucking crap out me (and Leo, who was on my lap). Not really surprised it was happening, of course, but very startled.


Roger Owen Green said...

You have ONE identifiable guy who screwed up. That's remarkable.
I wish we had the tracing app you folks have. As of now, I won't get my first shot until March 31.

Arthur Schenck said...

I think so, too. The fact we can argue over whether one guy should be punished or not is only possible because the government’s response to the pandemic has been so well managed from the start. In particular, we know where and when the breaches occurred because our contact tracing system is so good. The Covid Tracer App is an important part of it, and would be even more so if everyone used it every time.

I didn’t mention it in the post, but awhile back we had an infectious person in Northland, but neither the region nor country changed Alert Levels back then. The reason is that the person did absolutely everything she was asked do, including scanning with the App absolutely everywhere she went. The health authorities were able to quickly identify any possible risks, and also to confirm that there was no widespread outbreak. All of that was possible because she followed all the rules and was a walking-talking example of doing the right thing. The trick, really, is getting more people to do that and preventing others from breaking the rules.