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Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Fran O’Sullivan: Pandemic lessons are there for the taking

OPINION:

Baby steps, I know. But finally, the Prime Minister has all but confirmed that Auckland’s lockdown will be extended for at least another two weeks beyond next Tuesday.

It’s hardly surprising when the bulk of the confirmed Covid-19 Delta cases are in that city.

Not only is Auckland the prime gateway city for New Zealand, but it’s where most of the managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) centres are.

Informed political and business watchers will have already digested this likelihood and made plans accordingly.

Lockdowns are easy. But what comes next? That’s where this Government has some major choices to make, particularly as the Ministry of Health has already been found wanting in its preparations for the Delta wave.

Two contrasting international approaches give food for thought: In Fiji, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama is shooting for the gold standard to fully vaccinate 80 per cent of adultsby the end of October — this after Delta swept through the Fijian islands with recent reports recording 44,745 cases and more 459 deaths from a population of 903,906 according tothe Worldometer.

Already, 92.6 per cent of eligible adults in Fiji — 543,318 individuals in total — have received one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and 40 per cent of that target population is fully vaccinated. That’s far better than New Zealand. The Cook Islands and Niue have even higher vaccination rates — something that is possible if people are united behind a goal.

Bainimarama reckons that as more of Fiji becomes fully vaccinated, “it will forge a powerful shield of protection against severe disease and death from Covid-19, and much of what we miss most about our lives can be restored”.

Fiji has imposed nightly curfews in many parts to limit transmission (as has Sydney). Has this even been thought aboutfor South Auckland, for instance, if transmission is not quickly suppressed, rather than a city-wide level 4 lockdown?

This is not racist, by the way. Northern Māori have endeavoured to provide barriers to stop Aucklanders bringing infection into Northland — it’s either keeping infection out or in, as the case may be.

The plain-speaking Fiji PM says just because that countryplans to shorten the curfew hours, it does not give anyone a free pass to disregard any of theother health protection measures. “Do not start party planning. Do not arrange for grog sessions after work or carelessly share cigarettes, or forget to wear your mask, or violate physical distancing. Do not let these extra hours cost us our vigilance — they should only be used for essential travel.”

To reward people who have been vaccinated and encourage those who have not yet been, Fiji is organising a national vaccine lottery, with great prizes.

There’s plenty more besides. But Bainimarama’s messaging has been resonating with some South Auckland leaders who share the belief that the ultimate prize is lives saved, which will enable businesses to reopen — including the tourism sector, as Fiji reopens to the world.

Then there is another approach currently circulating among some members of the Auckland business community.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett went live on Facebook a fortnight ago to detail his Government’s national plan to fight the Delta wave.

That plan is to lead Israel to “a safe shore”; to preserve the health ofcitizensand also to “preserve the economic future of the State of Israel”.

“The livelihood of the citizens of Israel is also the preservation of their lives,” said Bennett. The strategy is to act to alleviate the disease — accelerate the third vaccination campaign — and defeat the Delta epidemic.

“Every effort is made to avoid lockdowns, which are destructive tools for our children’s livelihoods, economy and education. Closures are only a last resort.

“It is easiest for the Government to declare a closure and transfer money to the closed businesses and workers sitting at home. But the closure policy has a terrible price.”

Israel was in the vanguard as a testing ground for the Pfizer vaccine. It made data available to Pfizerso the vaccine’s efficacy could be assessed. But irrespective, only about60 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, although Israelhas been smart enough to already have the option of receiving a third vaccine.

“We took care of the approval of the medical experts. We took care of the stock of vaccines,” said Bennett.

He outlined various tradeoffs: reduction of morbidity and mortality versus the livelihood of Israeli citizens; the education of Israeli children; and the preservation of Israel’s economic future.

“It is important for me to emphasise something: the price tag of three closures that were, was 200 hundred billion shekels. It’s our money, yours and your children’s and grandchildren’s.

“If we continue with the policy of closures and destructive restrictions on the economy, we will simply become economically impoverished.”

He points to soldiers’ lives which will be lost if they can’t be equipped with modern anti-aircraft guns, because themoney has already been spent. And to children and adults not sent for life-saving surgery.

“Think for a moment: Every family in Israel went into debt …due to the price tag of the three closures. Each of us, and our children, will have to repay this debt through taxes, and services are reduced over decades to come.”

The deal is that Bennett wants every citizen to get a vaccine, and to put on masks in enclosed spaces and reduce gatherings.

They are strengthening hospitals and thewhole healthcare system, after many years of neglecting these critical parts of the system.

The private market for quick tests and the sale of home tests has been opened.

There’s much more besides.

But the message is to get with the plan.

“Closing the country — it is very easy,” says Bennett.

“But what is right is to turn every stone — so that the citizens of Israel will be healthy, that the State of Israel will remain open, to keep the citizens of Israel on a physical, mental and economic level, not to break down and not lose their livelihood — and make the right decisions.”

How long before Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson have to make such a call?

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