Although it wasn’t until mid-March 2020 that the first measures to deal with the coronavirus outbreak in New Zealand were announced, it seems like an eternity.
Our checks started with a 14-day self-isolation requirement for people entering the country unless they were arriving from the Pacific, but less than two weeks later the country was in lockdown and the state of emergency had been declared.
Alert levels and traffic light system, bubbles, work from home, home learning, mask wearing, travel restrictions, vaccinations, reminders, vaccination passes, testing and contact tracing, scanning with app Covid Tracer, multiple warrants, self-isolation, managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) and its controversial reservation system, were all among the things we came to know and endure.
Enthusiasm for removing remaining requirements such as mask-wearing in most settings must be tempered by the realization that for the immunocompromised it will not be a triumph. For them, this will likely mean more restrictions as they fear venturing into places where in the past they could have been reasonably sure everyone would be wearing masks.
Some people will choose to continue wearing masks in crowded places, on public transport, and in poorly ventilated places, and this choice should be respected by others.
Removing most restrictions, including vaccination mandates, can lead to the misconception that the pandemic is over, and it’s full steam ahead for a Covid-free summer. The number of cases has gone down, we have much higher immunity thanks to vaccination and many people getting the disease, and access to antiviral drugs is increased, but the disease is still there. On Tuesday it was reported that there were 1,941 new cases and as of last week 12 people had died.
A new sense of freedom may be accompanied by more people becoming jaded about getting tested when they show symptoms, leading to the unnecessary spread of infection. Even if they undertake testing, will some be tempted not to report positive results in order to avoid the seven-day isolation requirement?
There have already been criticisms that a regular prevalence survey, to check the extent of the disease in the community, has been announced but still not implemented.
It should not be forgotten that our understaffed hospitals are still reeling from the many non-Covid emergency presentations with no respite in sight.
With testing no longer mandatory for people entering the country, there is uncertainty about how the risk of new, concerning variants that may arrive will be assessed and addressed before they spiral out of control and hospitals are not overwhelmed.
If there are any plans for the continued management of the pandemic, we need to know more about them.
And something else…
There was a mixed response to the announcement that there will be a one-off public holiday to commemorate 70 years of reign and the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
It is not surprising that some companies in difficulty are reluctant to leave for another vacation. But diehard royalists will be delighted, as well as those who recognize the significance of the occasion as the end of an era. Others, less enthusiastic now, may find themselves carried away by the pomp and circumstance in spite of themselves.
Whatever the answer, the holiday gesture is appropriate, given that the Queen was our head of state.
There has been an unfortunate shock of the holidays for those living in South Canterbury, with Queen Elizabeth II Memorial Day scheduled for what is expected to be their birthday on September 26.
Some spoilsports have suggested that Queen’s Day could be incorporated into the anniversary day, but the proposal to move the regional anniversary to Canterbury’s anniversary day on November 11 for this year seems a more sensible and fair solution.