Blowing a Hole in Your Own Wall: Idiotic Tampering with MIQ

Managed Isolation/Quarantine has been a fact of life for New Zealand for eighteen months. It’s not popular – there are only so many spaces available at any given time, and the process is famously opaque – but it is the key to saving New Zealand from rampant Coronavirus. That, and the fact that the border is closed to (non-exempted) non-New Zealanders.

But, as of yesterday, the New Zealand Government has made a big mistake. It has decided to tinker with the very protections that have kept us safe behind the walls of Fortress New Zealand. Specifically:

  • From mid-January, double-vaccinated New Zealanders can travel from Australia to New Zealand, without any Quarantine beyond self-isolation.
  • From mid-February, double-vaccinated New Zealanders can travel from anywhere to New Zealand, without any Quarantine beyond self-isolation.
  • From the end of April, double-vaccinated non-New Zealanders can come to New Zealand, without any Quarantine beyond self-isolation. In short, the border re-opens, within limits.

There remain exceptions for “high-risk” countries, a list currently consisting of Papua New Guinea.

Now, my initial reaction yesterday was to swear very loudly. In fact, the initial intention was to call this post ‘Planned Death By Gingernut,’ an unflattering reference to Chris Hipkins, the Covid Response Minister who announced the plan. But I’ve decided to approach this in a calmer and more analytical fashion.

The real choice here is a binary one. Does New Zealand favour:

(1) Looser borders, and tighter internal restrictions. OR

(2) Tighter borders, and looser internal restrictions.

I dare say, the second option would be more popular with the New Zealand public at large. But the Government appears to be hurtling towards (1), under the impression that vaccination and continued domestic restrictions will keep the disease in check. This has only become politically viable because certain subsections of certain criminal gangs have kept the disease circulating for a sufficient length of time. And because the Media is universally promoting Let It Rip.

Don’t get me wrong. The Covid vaccines are great, and have saved millions of lives worldwide. But the Government seems to be under the notion that a widely vaccinated population will be enough to dampen down this particular fire. And that people will comply with self-isolation requirements, an assumption that strikes me as decidedly naive.

In actuality, I strongly suspect this is a recipe for the following:

  • Double-vaccinated travellers will bring in the disease, potentially even a new variant.
  • The disease will find and circulate among the unvaccinated.
  • The unvaccinated will clog up the Health System. Bad luck if you’re a double-vaccinated survivor of a car-accident.
  • Elderly vaccinated people will also die, in significant numbers. Sure, they won’t get places in Intensive Care, because they’re elderly… but it strikes me as profoundly wrong that these people, who did everything right, should now suffer because the Government wants to appease the Media. Ironically, the Media is now insisting the Government is moving too slowly.

This all adds up to a Singapore-style situation. Comparatively tame by international standards, but a public health disaster by New Zealand standards. Seeing as the Government’s popularity is so tied to the notion that they kept us safe last year, this also strikes me as utterly foolish at the political level.

However, let’s be charitable. The Government might not even suffer much blow-back from the first change, since outside Melbourne and parts of Sydney, Australia is still not overly infested with the virus. Most New Zealanders in Australia are actually in the (largely Covid-free) Brisbane. The much bigger danger is the second change, since this encourages traffic from the UK and USA, both of whom have copious connections to New Zealand, and both of whom are absolutely infested.

(There is a work-around, of course. Re-label all these countries as high-risk, and you’ve avoided the problem. Except that logically, everywhere apart from China, Taiwan, Samoa, and Tonga ought to be considered high-risk at this point, and there is no reflection of that in the Government’s labelling).

The far-off dates might also allow enough time for us to get a glimpse of the upcoming Northern Hemisphere Winter. Which really will provide clues on what Covid’s damage looks like in a vaccinated population. Moreover, with Europe rediscovering lockdowns, I would hope that New Zealand is capable of taking necessary measures if things really do go pear-shaped in 2022.

None of this, however, really takes away from my profound disappointment at the Government in general – and Chris Hipkins in particular.

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