Brooke van Velden: Government’s Covid rules are no longer fit for purpose


By now we all know someone who has caught Covid-19. They’ve messaged the work group chat or shared a picture of those two little lines on social media. It’s certain to be more than the ones we know about, though. Some estimates say it’s actually five times what is reported.

Everyone wants to protect themselves and their family but, for some, home detention just isn’t worth the risk. When the rules are unworkable, 10 days’ isolation for the whole family and testing queues snake around city blocks, it’s not a surprise.

If you own and operate your own business to feed your family and pay the mortgage, you can’t afford to isolate. You can’t afford to cancel contracts. The Government didn’t seem to ask the question, how do we balance an effective isolation period with what people will realistically follow?

Then there’s the effect of all those who do isolate. You only need to pop into your local supermarket to see the effect of isolation rules. Where the lamb chops and mince are usually stacked is more likely to be an empty shelf as there aren’t enough workers around to distribute and stock the shop. That’s annoying, now imagine it’s nurses in a hospital instead of shelf stackers in a supermarket. The same thing’s happening there too, with much more serious consequences.

It’s getting tiring. And so hard to keep going.

For some businesses, isolation is not new. Those who depend on connecting with the outside world have been isolated for the past two years. They’re isolated from the world, tourists who ring the cash register, and desperately needed workers. Farmers have been under serious pressure, unable to get the workers they need for calving and milking, and harvesting fruit that’s been left to rot on the ground. A tourist operator in Queenstown told me he’s surviving on 20 per cent of the revenue he’d previously brought in. A fashion assistant said she’s lucky if three people enter her store each day now.

A couple of women in Northland needing healthcare told me they’d prefer a vaccinated nurse, but what they want most of all is just to see any nurse at all.

We can’t keep going on like this. It’s time to move on. It’s time to stop the fear and get back control of our lives.

Omicron is a whole new virus. It’s highly infectious but it’s also milder. It requires a different policy response to what we had for previous variants. When the science changes, the policy needs to follow or we all get left behind.

We’ve got to admit that the rules the Government has put in place are no longer fit for purpose. Moving on means weighing costs and benefits, and keeping only the rules that still make sense in an Omicron world. We shouldn’t keep ineffective rules like a child keeps their old blanket, just because they make us feel comfortable and safe.

Weighing costs and benefits is something the Government should have done for Omicron. Is keeping people locked away for 10 days worth the cost to them and society? Does keeping tourists out of New Zealand until October make sense when we have higher infection rates than where the tourists come from?

The answer is becoming more obvious every day. The closed border no longer makes sense. All travellers with a negative test should be allowed to enter New Zealand. Families have been split apart for too long.

Can a vaccine mandate still be justified when it doesn’t reduce spread like it did for Delta? If you meet 100 people, and 97 are vaccinated, does it make sense to segregate the other three who aren’t, when it barely changes your chance of infection. What’s the real purpose now, to punish them? More and more people would say no, the division costs more than any remaining health benefit.

Brooke van Velden, MP, is the deputy leader of the Act Party.

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