Lockdowns and the slow rollout of vaccines look likely to take their toll on the PM’s popularity

Is  the  smooth  run  for  the  Ardern  government  coming  to  an  end?  It  is  still  riding  high in the polls, but almost  imperceptibly the mood   appears   to be  changing.

Jacinda Ardern  may still be enjoying   a  status  few  other  prime  ministers  have attained but the fallibility  of  some of her ministers is coming  more  clearly  into  focus.

More  particularly, where  the government won so much kudos  in  its  response to   the Covid-19 pandemic, it  now  seems to  have lost its magic  touch.

Ardern herself appears  to be becoming  more defensive, pulling  out of her regular slot  on the Mike Hosking ZB  programme.

The latest  lockdowns  accentuated the  hardship  inflicted  on  business, particularly in Auckland, and   the  rollout  of  the Covid vaccination programme  has  been disappointingly  slow.

Where ministers  before Christmas were  boasting NZ  would be in  front  of the queue for supplies of vaccines, by this week only  18,000  New Zealanders  have received a  shot.  Contrast  that with Israel  where more than 50%  of the  population  had been  vaccinated   by the   beginning  of this  month, and 20 million UK citizens had received  their  shots.

Only  this week, the government  said it had secured “an advance purchase agreement”  for   8.5m  doses of the Pfizer vaccine. This is additional  to the 1.5m already secured.

Ardern revealed this additional order  would arrive—wait  for  it—in  the  second  half  of the year.

Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins told Parliament  the government has not set a target for what proportion of the population  needs to be  vaccinated before it will relax border controls.

That  means  NZ  won’t  achieve the herd  immunity  status it is aiming until  possibly next January.

What  this means  for  businesses  that  are hanging on  through  the  recent lockdowns  is  far  from  clear.

Whether   the  government  has   a  plan to  revive  failing businesses – or even  a  plan  to restore  the  economy  to pre-pandemic levels – has yet  to be   disclosed.  Maybe  it is  being held back to give  substance to the budget.

Meanwhile the   nation is  waiting  for some  action  on the  housing  front  (though it  appears the  plight of the  homeless  will get  worse  before it gets  better). Then  there  is  the question  how  much  deeper  child  poverty will  become.

The ACT  party   this week  highlighted what   the  government  has failed  to do by putting   up a  plan for the  immediate   next steps of  NZ’s  response to Covid-19, as well as a longer term strategy  for living in a progressively vaccinated  world—something it said the business community and others have been crying out for .

ACT Leader David Seymour says the plan responds to megatrends in the global COVID situation:

  1. Vaccination
  2. Public fatigue
  3. New variants
  4. Innovation

“It makes 15 policy recommendations; seven immediate changes to get NZ to herd immunity without further lockdowns; five short term changes to prepare us for a post-vaccine world; and three medium term measures for how we can operate in the post-vaccine environment.”

Among seven proposed immediate changes which ACT says should be made are:

  • Compulsory Covid-app use including Bluetooth functionality to improve contact tracing
  • Introduce daily PCR saliva testing and the use of Datamine’s ëlarm technology to the border and MIQ workforce to alert them to early signs of infection
  • Begin establishing an Epidemic Response Unit modelled off Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Centre to replace Covid-19 response leadership by the Ministry of Health
  • Reactivate Parliament’s Epidemic Response Committee

Short and medium-term measures designed to prepare NZ for the months and years ahead include:

  • Progress work on a vaccine passport
  • Rolling out wider use of screening tests
  • Begin work on a Business Travel Network aligned with rules already promoting business travel to the likes of Singapore and Taiwan
  • Beginning work on a Digital Fence system for some self-isolation, taking pressure off the existing MIQ network and introducing a risk-based traffic light system for MIQ.
  • Seymour says this is a constructive playbook for the country – not a look through the rear view mirror but a look through the front windscreen at where we’re going.

Seymour said:

“Nothing we’re suggesting here would necessarily take away from existing measures in place – this potentially enhances and adds to what we’re already doing.

“Investigating and doing these things requires the Government being prepared to put the effort and resources into them.

“Whatever that resource may be, ACT’s view is the cost will be considerably less than further lockdowns caused by inadequate security measures at the border, including far too infrequent testing and patchy contact tracing.

“ACT’s position all along has been to propose sound policy solutions to the challenges we face while holding the Government to account.”

ACT just wants to make the boat go faster, Seymour says.

Don’t we  all?

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