Culture shock

A big culture shock is coming to New Zealand


Less than 72 hours after the Prime Minister announced that the country would run a red light if Omicron entered the community, the call has been made. It will be a culture shock for many in the coming months as Covid finally takes hold, writes political editor Jo Moir.

Despite two years of closures, borders and restrictions, a large part of the population still does not know anyone who has ever had Covid, and sees it as something that happens to other countries across the distance of a screen of television.

The lucky position New Zealand found itself in is about to end, and ministers and health officials know only too well how unprepared some are for what is to come.

This rose-tinted view on Covid has meant that only 56% of those eligible for a booster bothered to get one.

It was the arrival of the Delta variant and its higher infection rate that prompted many people to seek out the vaccine. The Prime Minister is banking on this same fear that the more transmissible Omicron is stimulating people.

Ardern says it’s booster shots that will help New Zealand through the Omicron wave, but many aren’t even eligible to get them for several weeks or more.

The red setting of the traffic light system, which has now been split into three phases because Omicron affects the community more, has no significant impact on what people can and cannot do.

Those vaccinated can still go out freely for dinner, go to the gym, visit friends and family locally or in other areas, and send their children to school.

But by the time phases two and three come into effect, and daily Covid cases number in the thousands, regular rapid antigen testing will have to be widespread, supply chains will be affected by the isolation of staff at home, and for the most part those with Covid who are not seriously ill will have to fend for themselves at home.

The first phase of the red setting is no different from living with Delta in the community (although the alert level system is more restrictive than traffic lights), which Jacinda Ardern says is deliberate because it’s when cases are still at a manageable rate (no more than 1000 per day) with PCR tests still in use and contacts of cases traced.

Details regarding phases two and three will be announced on Wednesday.

While the Kiwis got a taste of the future on Sunday, Omicron’s arrival forced Ardern’s hand after she opted out of exposing him to the New Zealanders on Thursday, although she said the finalized plan was broadly complete.

This raises the question of whether the government thought it had more time than it finally had, given that it did not even go three days without having to call an emergency cabinet meeting to almost immediately tip the whole country into the red.

Ardern says it’s booster shots that will help New Zealand through the Omicron wave, but many aren’t even eligible to get them for several weeks or more.

It is rightly anxiety-provoking for many, and although the chief health officer says he is still reviewing international evidence, there are no immediate plans to follow suit with other countries and reduce the risk. gap between the second dose and the booster from four months to three.

A major government-led campaign around booster shots needs to kick in, and Ardern says simply having people have the ability to go get them isn’t enough.

It would be a bit like Delta, when the government was slow to set a vaccination target and only did so after pressure continued to set a 90% target.

The lesson must be learned and the Department of Health, with the support of Ministers, must start publicizing drive-ins and weekend events, and put in place incentives to get a kick out of it. inch.

If Ardern believes his own warning, and it’s the boosters that will slow the spread of Omicron and delay the clogged healthcare system and overwhelmed hospitals, as has been seen abroad, then he doesn’t there will only be benefits to throwing money and resources at stimulating people. .

With the border largely closed, the government bought time to prepare for Omicron.

The same goes for rapid antigen tests and N95 masks – both of which will be needed on a large scale in the weeks and months to come – which should be ordered and distributed to the public as soon as possible.

So far, at least, Ardern seemed determined to box with the elimination strategy.

Whether that was because the finer details of an Omicron plan were still in the works, or that she was convinced it would be an epidemic that could be eradicated is not entirely clear.

As the language of Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins and Finance Minister Grant Robertson shifted to a mitigation approach last year, Ardern has remained more stuck on the elimination page, reluctant to give in to the spread.

It was Hipkins and Robertson who were candid about the darker year ahead and prepared people to expect a new normal from which they have so far been shielded.

Ardern officially joined them on Sunday (for phases and two and three at least) and now the public must get on board as well.

With the border largely closed, the government bought time to prepare for Omicron.

As it got closer each week, Hipkins was candid about pursuing plans to gradually reopen the border in late February as the risk of Kiwis abroad would no longer be relevant in an outbreak scenario. community.

Businesses will struggle ahead, with heavily impacted supply chains and an inevitably high number of employees who will either be sick with Covid or isolated at home.

Many saw 2021 as a much tougher grind than 2020 due to the uncertainty of what was to come and the race to get vaccinated.

This uncertainty has not disappeared – in some cases it has probably increased. The race to get vaccinated has shifted to boosters and whether this new approach will hold up against any variations to come.