It’s starting to feel like we are on a rudderless ship, drifting further and further away from the rest of the world.
We aren’t the only business sector asking for a plan – a plan to get on with living with Covid-19, reconnecting with the world, getting out of lockdowns, saving dying businesses, and getting back to some semblance of normality before the nation’s collective mental health goes into serious decline. Our supply chain and trade certainly depend on it.
This week, the NZ Herald’s Mood of the Boardroom survey was decidedly an unhappy and unimpressed mood. The Government got the thumbs down for its current handling of the Covid-19 pandemic as we lag behind the rest of the world.
Also, this week, a 25-strong group of New Zealand’s largest companies, including Mainfreight and DHL Express NZ, formalised a plea to the Government to urgently allow rapid antigen tests into the country to help protect their workers from Covid-19.
The Government is moving on this now, but every move has to be forced and appears to be reactive rather than planned. Yesterday, the lead Minister on Covid-19 testing, Ayesha Verrall, announced the Government would pilot rapid antigen testing with the private sector. But again, details on the when, where and how were light. She’s meeting with business people today (Friday 8 October).
This is on the back of a report delivered to Cabinet on Monday, from University of Otago’s professor David Murdoch, who leads the Government’s testing advisory group. Professor Murdoch found that as a country, New Zealand was too slow to adopt saliva testing and too slow to adopt rapid antigen testing. I question that they needed a report to be told that when businesses have been pointing it out for some time.
The rest of the world has used vaccination, vaccination certificates, rapid testing, and face masks to return to holidays, events, families uniting, and cross-border travel and trade. The key has been vaccination and rapid testing, which they’ve been using through Europe for months. Employers around the rest of the world are providing employees with rapid testing kits so they can do a daily test before they head into work.
While the rest of the world has been using vaccine certificates for a while now – in Australia you get yours a couple of days after your second vaccination – New Zealand is still developing its version. We watched a couple of public servants try and explain it at one of the sermons from the pulpit this week. Why can’t we just buy someone else’s that actually works? Why can’t the Government listen to anyone but themselves?
Canterbury’s famed New Zealand Agriculture Show has had to cancel for the second year running. They offered to test the vaccine certificate for their show between 10 and 12 November, but no dice.
The testing message in New Zealand is confused. We found that out when the Government introduced virtually overnight that truck drivers crossing out of Auckland’s Level 3 into Level 2 areas had to show proof of being tested in the previous seven days. This regime now extends to the large part of the Waikato in Level 3. Our industry understands that as essential workers moving throughout the country, testing and vaccination are critical.
What we have a problem with is the lack of consultation from Government when it makes radical changes to the way businesses operate and expects instant compliance without explaining the rules and processes, or even providing the legal framework they have made the changes under – the Public Health Orders are very slow to appear and often seem to be loaded on the internet literally a minute before they come into force.
We have written to COVID-19 Response Minister Chis Hipkins and Health Minister Andrew Little with our concerns about the lack of planning and preparation that has gone into the Government’s response to the latest Covid-19 outbreak. We have urged them to be aware of the consequences of decisions made on the fly, with no processes in place, and hastily put together law to back these decisions made without any consultation.
We have stated that we believe there should be an independent inquiry into the Government’s handling of the latest Covid-19 outbreak.
With a majority Government, they are able to do as they wish and it is increasingly important there is some scrutiny.
At the moment, the Government is ramming through laws, including the Covid-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill (No 2), that give them unbridled power until at least May 2023, including giving the Ministry of Health powers to commandeer private medical testing laboratories’ testing capacity. The Director General could make one of his orders to make private laboratories “undertake COVID-19 testing solely for the purposes of the public health response to COVID-19 while subject to the order, whether or not the laboratory is contracted by the Crown for that purpose”.
The COVID-19 Response (Management Measures) Legislation Bill alters local government laws to allow for more flexibility in delaying elections – so next year’s local government election could be “delayed”.
Both these Bills are currently before Select Committee and have had extremely short consultation periods, suggesting they will pass through without regard for the views of submitters. That’s what a majority can do.
- Nick Leggett, CEO, Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand