While the PM was announcing an extension of the Covid-19 lockdown and urging us to be kind, Point of Order staff were reading an article in The Telegraph which was not so kindly towards her and her government.
It was headed Poor Jacinda Ardern, trapped in her arrogant Zero Covid policy
The article was written by a Matthew Lesh who kicked off:
Poetic justice is beautiful. Last week, Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, announced that the antipodean nation would indefinitely pursue a zero Covid strategy. This week, it entered a stringent nationwide lockdown after the emergence of a single Covid-19 case. The pandemic giveth, the pandemic taketh away.
Since the lockdown announcement, Lesh wrote, a further 20 cases had emerged.
And even more have emerged since then.
Lesh goes on:
The virus had been circulating for a few weeks, in a largely unvaccinated population. Turns out the Covid risk has not disappeared. Following on from Australia, which has seen rising daily cases despite continued harsh lockdowns, the country could soon be stuck in a Covid rut. Locked down, at risk and no way out.
New Zealand’s Covid-19 response was idealised last year. The small island nation eliminated the virus – with short lockdowns, closed borders and effective contact tracing – and largely lived without restrictions. Economic growth has been high and mortality has been low. But what worked in 2020 is not the same as what makes sense in 2021.
We now have vaccines. The ingenious jabs substantially reduce the risk of hospitalisation and death from the virus. They do not mean zero risk or, for that matter, zero cases. But they change the calculation: elimination becomes a costly strategy with very limited benefit. What’s the point of lockdowns and maintaining closed borders for a virus that, with vaccines in the mix, no longer causes much harm to individual people?
New Zealand has not come to this realisation. It has fetishised “zero risk” for the past 17 months and show little interest in updating its strategy. Last week, Ms Ardern announced that New Zealand would maintain an “elimination, or ‘stamp it out’, strategy” into the next stage of the pandemic, even when more people are vaccinated.
There might be some loosening on the border next year, but not much more than that is planned. When they realise that there is still a risk of bringing in Covid, even from a vaccinated individual, these plans could also be shelved.
New Zealand’s zero Covid strategy has had frightening consequences. A once-welcoming nation is turning into an isolated dystopia, where liberties are taken away in a heartbeat and outsiders are shunned. Living under the constant threat of disruptive and psychologically crushing lockdowns. Being closed off to the world, with citizens’ ability to travel curtailed and foreigners largely prevented from entering. So much for the open, welcoming liberal nation projected by Ms Ardern.
Indeed, for all the screams of “Slay Queen Jacinda” on social media, Ms Ardern has shown little serious interest in protecting her people. New Zealand has fully vaccinated just one in five of its population, the second lowest in the OECD. It even shut down vaccination centres when it entered “level 4” restrictions this week. Lockdown first, foremost and forever.
The implications of New Zealand’s strategy stretch well beyond Covid. “Zero risk” gives the state limitless justification to interfere with our lives in the most extreme of ways. Individual choice, bodily autonomy and basic privacy become subsumed to the goal of taking away anything that could do us even the smallest level of harm. Fear breeds tolerance for the most extreme actions. A liberal society becomes impossible to maintain.
This pandemic has changed our lives in so many ways. We have sacrificed so much in the name of public safety. But at some point, we have to declare “enough is enough”. Snap lockdowns over small numbers of cases and constant state interference in our lives is simply no way to live.