In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been busy asking questions of any government person I can find to ensure the road freight transport industry can be as prepared as possible for the wave of Omicron coming our way.
We are committed to keeping our part of the supply chain moving, as we have done through the Covid-19 pandemic even through lockdowns when truck drivers traversed lonely roads with little in the way of refreshment supplies and comfort stops.
On 10 January, I wrote to Transport Minister Michael Wood stressing the urgency for Government to get a plan on the table so the supply chain can prepare appropriately. The trucking industry has many things to consider including availability of government personnel to keep trucks and drivers on the road with all the right paperwork.
I’ve also done numerous media interviews asking for the Government’s plan, and have been joined by many other industries on that score.
We stand with Retail New Zealand and Countdown in asking for details of testing and isolation periods, as well as a pragmatic approach to what could be a short-term but debilitating worker shortage impacting processing and delivery of essentials such as food and medical supplies.
It has felt a bit like lights on but nobody home when it comes to the Government’s response.
All the while we have been watching our counterparts in Australia deal with severe supply chain disruption due to workers both being unwell with Omicron and/or isolating. Some are asymptomatic and some don’t get very sick at all, so rules have been changed to allow them to work.
Australia has also lost control of accurate numbers due to a shortage of rapid antigen tests and the PCR testing system being overwhelmed. Lessons can be learned from this, right?
We are going into the third year of Covid-19 dominating all our lives in New Zealand and there is a certain trauma that comes with that. We don’t need more panic, fear mongering and knee-jerk reactions from those in charge. We need detailed, clear, pragmatic plans.
Under pressure, the Government will be making some announcements this week however, they are signalling that detailed plans on issues such as rules for isolating and stand down periods are not expected for another week or two.
There is no doubt that Covid-19 has been a world-changing event and debate on who managed it best will go on for years after the virus has done its worst. New Zealand has charted a path that has kept people safe from Covid-19, but it has come with many unintended consequences and long-lasting impacts.
Compliance has come from fear which has in turn, pitched citizens against each other, particularly New Zealanders who have had to travel, or live offshore, but have strong family connections here and wish to be able to return, as is the right conveyed on their passports.
Regarding Omicron, the Government’s strategy has been reported to be to keep it out of the community for as long as possible to buy time for boosters and preparation. Haven’t they had two years to prepare?
This week, a briefing document prepared for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet leaked to Māori Television revealed warnings have certainly been sounded.
The classified Across Government Situation Report reveals advisers' fears of panic buying of food, protective masks and medication should Omicron eventually spread and says home-made face coverings are "unlikely to be effective".
The report says given many haven’t been exposed to previous waves of Covid-19 like Delta, New Zealand could be harder hit than the US and Europe, which are now battling their own Omicron outbreaks.
“Most will not have any protective immunity benefits that may arise from prior infection,” the report says.
While many countries believe Omicron may be the end of the pandemic for them, New Zealand’s strategy has left us with greater exposure it seems.
I know that truck companies are resilient and Transporting New Zealand has issued advice on preparing for Omicron with what we know so far. In the absence of any Government plan, and with people in the community who have tested positive to Omicron, we have to do the best we can.
Keep up-to-date on our Covid-19 web page where we will post information as it comes to hand.
- Nick Leggett, CEO, Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand