About time. Although, in saying this, the government’s announcements today are also a case of ‘better late than never’. That most mandates are soon to end is positive, although I have been questioning the value of these for quite some time now.
As I have noted in parliament a few times, there was a limited place for them when first introduced, such as in healthcare, front line workers in our airports, and so on. However, the continuation of them once New Zealand was even into the 90% vaccinated range moved such mandates from encouragement to coercion. One couldn’t help feel we were seeing the expression of political, rather than health-based, decision making.
The ending of the vaccine pass is also long overdue, along with scanning. Practically it was falling apart, so the announcement was not something new but really an acceptance by Labour that their rules were no longer fit for purpose. They were in effect just announcing what was already inevitable. We have all seen how few are ‘scanning in’ these days – other than those making an almost theatrical virtue signal of things (which they are free to do). One key question that hasn’t yet been answered is what was all this scanning being used for these days anyway, seeing there is, effectively, no longer contact tracing?
The passes too had well had their time - both morally and practically. I say practically, as there is was no way they could continue with them as borders were re-opening. Were businesses really going to start turning people away who had recently come from overseas and didn’t have the requisite pass? How long would it have taken for every kiwi to just say ‘oh, we are from overseas visiting’? And all this before we even get into the rigmarole of how the passer were to be renewed; the place of the booster shot(s); and so on.
Underpinning all this of course is that Covid has changed. It remains an issue and not something we are done with, or rather, it is not done with us yet. However, the problem for New Zealand’s government is two-fold. Firstly, they didn’t adapt the rules quickly enough to adjust for this new reality. Omicron is not Delta. Just as the government likes to say (erroneously) that they went ‘hard and early’ when Covid first began, it was clear they didn’t go ‘fast and early’ to remove rules and restrictions when it was clear things were moving on. The second aspect is control. The government continues to enjoy control - rules, regulations, caveats, exemptions, exceptions, and a myriad of restrictions.
So even while today’s announcement is a positive step, we still see a government unwilling to fully let go and just let New Zealanders get on with life. This is echoed in some experts too who perhaps are unwilling to forgo the platforms they have become accustomed to. Personally, I would like to hear from more business leaders and economists these days, and not epidemiologists; the major challenge to our society is no longer Omicron, but devastated businesses, from hospitality through to tourism (and everything in between.)
And then there is the question of masks. It is time for those to go as well. And before some of you have conniptions, I am very aware what the research shows around their effectiveness. However, my key point is that this effectiveness is when worn properly, and of the right quality. Like ‘scanning in’, mask wearing has become honoured in the breach; that is, not really being done all that well and more with the quality of theatre than actual effectiveness.
If you doubt me, just look around. How many are wearing cloth masks which are, for intents and purposes, ineffective, yet look nice? How many are wearing masks with their noses out, or under their chin? How many do you see taking their masks off as they cough? How many people around you are currently wearing them on an ear, on their arm, around their wrist … or anywhere but on their face? And this is all before we talk about how masks are to be handled – that is, carefully by the straps, kept clean and so on. Considering this – it is time to ditch those too, or rather leave to individual choice. If you want to wear one, go for it … hey, wear three for all I care.
So, some welcome announcements today – but perhaps more an expression of the reality that has been forming for a long time now rather than anything particularly forward leaning by this government. There is also further to go and I place myself in the group of kiwis that would have liked to have seen more from government today - and by more, I mean more announcements about fewer restrictions.
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