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Richard Prebble: Why was New Zealand’s latest Covid lockdown the only option?

OPINION:

The trick to spin is to frame the question.

“I think everyone would agree it was much better to have a 72-hour [lockdown] than make the wrong call and have 72 hours of a community outbreak,” said Jacinda Ardern.

Governments start to die when they swallow their own spin.

If the PM reframed the question to: “Everyone agrees it would have been much better if we did not have a three-day lockdown” then Ardern would question why, after 12 months of pandemic, there was no option but lockdown.

The border breach was predicted.

Experts have warned we need more layers of protection.

In March, Trade Me founder Sam Morgan realised we were going to need a cheap universal Bluetooth card to quickly trace any community outbreak.

Sam Morgan’s Bluetooth cards would have quickly traced the latest community transmission without the need to lockdown.

Taiwan, a country of 23 million, has had fewer Covid-19 cases and no lockdowns. Their app does work.

Our government’s app will never be as good. Labour ministers apply great energy getting their supporters enrolled for elections. If the Government applied the same energy getting everyone using the Covid-19 app then the community transmission would have been traced in hours.

The most recent community transfer is almost certainly the result of a border failure. If border workers took a daily saliva test, the border would be more secure.

In August, I urged the Government use saliva testing but what would I know? More authoritative, the Simpson-Roche report into Covid-19 testing last September recommended: “All efforts should be made to introduce saliva testing as soon as possible.”

Last week in parliament:

David Seymour: “Is the Prime Minister aware that an analysis of 16 different studies into people using saliva testing in Australia, North America and Europe, published by The Journal of American Medical Associations last month, found that saliva testing is as accurate as PCR testing?”

Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern: …”We have to do a validation process to get it under way here in New Zealand. We don’t have the same level of Covid-19 present in New Zealand, so that makes it a little more difficult.”

The Government’s “validation process” is why our borders are less secure.

It gets worse. Widely available overseas are cheap, fast do-it-yourself test kits that give an answer in minutes. If the Government purchased such kits then, for less than the cost of one hour of lockdown, the population of South Auckland and New Plymouth could have self-tested. No waiting in cars for hours. No need to lockdown waiting for results.

It gets worse. We are being treated to a PR blitz as our first border workers get their vaccines “six weeks ahead of schedule”. Last year minister Chris Hipkins told breakfast TV: “New Zealand will be at the front of the queue to be getting vaccines.” Already everyone who wants the Pfizer vaccine in Israel has had one.

The countries ahead of New Zealand have set up a fast-track approval. New Zealand lost its place at the head of the queue because our government has no fast-track approval. Ministers and the bureaucracy went on their summer holiday. The Pfizer vaccine was not approved for use in this country until February 3.

Who thinks New Zealand is safer by taking longer to give approval? Who doubts if our border workers had been vaccinated in January our borders today would be safer?

It gets worse. Ardern announced: “It’s going to take all the year to reach everyone” who wants a vaccine.

New Zealand put in orders for a number of vaccines before they were proven.

Russia produced the first Covid-19 vaccine, Sputnik V. The former National MP Ross Meurant in August announced plans to import the Russian vaccine. He was ridiculed. Meurant is owed an apology. The Lancet reports Sputnik V is 91.4 per cent effective, does not need to be kept at -94 degrees and is half the cost of the Pfizer vaccine.

If the New Zealand Government had also ordered Sputnik V, the Russian vaccine could be available to New Zealanders who want it.

A lack of competence is the reason we have no alternative to lockdowns.

Instead of PR spin, the Government should be upfront. With new strains, Covid-19 may be with us for years. We may need annual jabs.

Vaccinating travelers before they arrive should be the priority. It is safer and cheaper than quarantine. We could arrange it with some countries at the visitors’ cost. Kiwis that have to travel to hotspots must also be a priority.

We have world-class vaccine manufacturing for our 38 million farm animals.

The PM needs to ask: “How quickly can New Zealand determine its own future by manufacturing Covid-19 tests and vaccines so the country can safely re-open?”

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