While we may always have known, and were told that Covid-19 may well come back after a 24 day spell of no cases, the past few weeks has brought us all back down to earth, with a crashing thump. More than that, the trust that many Kiwis have had in our institutions has been eroded. Why? Because testing regimens, and robust systems that we all thought were in place, are not what they were advertised as.
After the country essentially shut down, with all of the attendant economic impact that will take a generation to repair, we gradually freed up our social and economic spheres as case numbers dwindled away to nothing. Many of us still remain vigilant and social distancing will be with us for many years, if only in the way that we comport ourselves in public. But we ended community transmission and New Zealand was the envy of many countries around the world, where Covid-19 runs amok.
But we opened our borders – allowing New Zealanders to return – to be placed in mandatory quarantine for 14 days – where testing was meant to occur. The debacle of those practices came to light last week after two Kiwis returning from the UK were granted compassionate leave to attend a funeral while untested – and one subsequently tested positive for the disease. Since then, every day has revealed the laxity of monitoring and best practice up until the time when the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern commissioned Air Commodore Digby Webb to oversee and manage quarantine facilities around the country. She also signalled that compassionate leave would be suspended until the government could trust the system that we all thought was in place.
So where are we now? After months of extremely challenging conditions where thousands of Kiwis lost their jobs, 22 lives lost and our economy damaged, we are at the brink of going backwards – all because of lacklustre and I would suggest, negligent practices that if not eradicated, will harm us massively. There is too much at stake and if we are going to continue to keep our borders open to returning Kiwis then we better make sure that the disease is contained absolutely at the border. If it can’t be then the border should be closed. The lives and livelihoods of the much vaunted ‘team of 5 million’ deserves better and is worth far more than the ‘right of return’.
I have taken huge pride in our leadership and I still stand by that feeling but trust is only as good as the solidity of the reputation it stands on. Our government has made many extremely difficult decisions – all in the public good, we have been told. If compassionate leave can be suspended because of a lack of faith then another big decision is closing the border for exactly the same reasons.
I understand human error – it’s an inherently human quality – we all make mistakes. But right now – a system created by humans, is in place to protect us all and it’s nowhere near good enough.