Richard Prebble: Australia shows the way out of Covid, why not follow?

OPINION:

How New Zealand has gone from the front of the vaccine queue to the back has been explained by the British Medical Journal. Pfizer required a premium for early delivery.

Israel paid the premium and is at the front of the queue. All its citizens have been offered the vaccine. Our Government did not pay for early vaccine delivery. Eighty-five per cent of New Zealanders are unprotected.

New Zealand must remain in quarantine just an accident away from an outbreak and lockdown.

Economics Professor Robert MacCulloch’s excellent blog “Down to Earth Kiwi” estimates “for our population of just 5 million, paying $40 million more (for two doses) could have avoided billions upon billions of additional economic and wellbeing costs.”

Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins says it would have been unethical to have paid the premium.

Is an African life worth more than a Kiwi life?

The Spinner-in-Chief has given a number of excuses. She says as we have no community Covid cases other countries’ need for the vaccine is greater.

Covid will be around for years. Under the PM’s logic New Zealanders would never be vaccinated.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern then says that the whole world is not safe until the whole world is vaccinated.

She knows the whole world will never be vaccinated. Around 20 per cent of New Zealanders will refuse to be vaccinated. Over a thousand border workers are not vaccinated.

New Zealand going to the back of the queue has not made the rest of the world safer.

It was not a difficult ethical decision. It was a practical one.

The Air New Zealand safety video has it right. “Put your own mask on first before attempting to assist others”.

The Government is innumerate. They are willing to spend $685m on a harbour cycle way with a negative cost/benefit but not $40m for an early vaccine rollout to save billions of dollars and possibly many lives.

Any risk analysis would have found it is safer to have two vaccine suppliers.

There is no management experience. The PM’s university degree is in PR. Hipkins’ degree is in politics. Their total adult experience is in politics.

What company would rely on a single supplier? What company would refuse to make a $40m investment to secure the company and to save billions of dollars?

Secrecy destroys good decision making. When it is a secret the country cannot assist the Government to make a sound decision.

This Government that promised to be the most transparent is the most secretive. Official Information requests are routinely denied. What is the Government’s strategy to return to normal? The great communicator just communicates empathy.

Ministers never told the nation until after they had made the decision that New Zealand would have just one vaccine supplier. They never shared their decision not to pay for early delivery. We were never consulted on whether to go to the back of the queue.

If ministers had been transparent the country would have said “Of course we should have two suppliers and pay extra for early vaccine delivery”.

It was probably a cock-up. The Pfizer decision was announced 8 March. The negotiations would have been in January. The senior civil servants and Cabinet were on holiday. A junior clerk is probably responsible.

In fairness to the clerk, he would have no idea what the Government’s Covid plan might be. He probably had a directive to select the easiest and cheapest option.

Last week David Seymour asked the Prime Minister in question time what is the plan once everyone who wants a vaccination has got one? Her answer was waffle.

The Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has set out an in-principle, four-phase plan out of Covid. Reduce international arrivals, offer vaccines to everyone, reach a vaccination threshold, then no more lockdowns. Manage Covid like other infectious diseases. Return to normal.

The Australian PM is the man who saved New Zealand from a Covid pandemic. In March last year Morrison telephoned Ardern informing her that Australia was going into quarantine.

Then Ardern’s priority was flying people from Covid hot spots to attend the Christchurch memorial. Her first reaction was to explore diverting planes around Australia.

The Australian decision shocked the Government to order New Zealand to be the 65th country to quarantine.

Why not follow Australia again?

Instead of announcing New Zealand’s pathway out of Covid “later this year” as the minister intends, why not avoid mistakes like going to the back of the vaccine queue and relying on a single supplier?

Trust the people. Tell the people what the choices are. Then together, the Government and the people, we can make a good plan to return New Zealand to normalcy.

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