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Covid-19 has run amok around the world including, of course, in New Zealand. The nationwide lockdown is already several months past, and Auckland’s August lockdown quickly recedes.
In the meantime, New Zealand had its share of scares through "community" cases arising via the border and quarantine or managed isolation. This "tricky" virus spreads so easily that even the wearing of basic personal protective equipment is no guarantee of security.
Then, on Thursday, came news of a community case of unknown origin. For good reason, this caused alarm. Now, the assiduous work to track, test and isolate continues. It will be some time before we know for sure if New Zealand has survived this incursion without major damage.
The Government from the start, despite several bungles and inadequate responses, has performed reasonably well. One might say it earned a B-plus. The voters certainly displayed their approval. Jacinda Ardern as Prime Minister and Ashley Bloomfield as Director-general of Health reassured and cajoled, directed and led.
The Government, as well, largely achieved economically. While it spent like there was no tomorrow, its swift action helped save jobs. Its decisions on movement between levels, at the time and in hindsight, have been sensible. It also learnt firm lockdown measures were required for comprehensive compliance.
By contrast, it has been too permissive in Alert Level 1. Even if the current community Covid bullet is dodged, masks should have remained compulsory on public transport, for example.
Given the failure of most people most of the time to use the tracer QR codes or sign in, one wonders, too, if the Government has been far too slow to develop and test an automatic Covid card.
What then about us, the citizens? We, mostly, did our bit during lockdown, following the rules. Another B-plus perhaps. But our performance has been abysmal since returning to Level 1, as low as a D-plus, a fail. The authorities kept exhorting everyone to use the Tracer App and masks, and the public, on the whole, simply ignored the pleas.
In Auckland itself, in the days before Thursday’s alarm, as few as one in 20 were using the app in Central Auckland shops. Mask use on buses and planes was little better.
The Minister for Covid-19 Response, Chris Hipkins, said on Thursday, we are "asking people to do the right thing". Clearly, such exaltations have, largely, been wasted words.
When Mr Hipkins was asked why mask-wearing was not compulsory, he raised the issue of only insisting on mandatory measures when "we really, really need to". That was because too many rules would lead to resistance and poorer public support when that need "really" arose.
It seems Mr Hipkins, Ms Ardern and Dr Bloomfield were so intent on being encouraging, on not being alarmist, that they shied away from being honest and blunt and telling the "people" they were failing in their duty by their poor rates of app use and mask-wearing. New Zealanders showed they would comply when masks were compulsory on public transport. But we ditched them given half a chance because wearing masks is not in our cultural norms.
Definitive requirements from the Government might have seen mask-wearing become like seatbelt use, automatic and accepted. Subsequent social pressure would have reinforced that compulsion. Instead, mask wearers are the odd people out, going against the herd.
Despite positive vaccine news and improvements in Covid treatment, New Zealand must maintain its "elimination" for at least several more months. The Government needs to insist on what "must" be done in certain areas, not just "ask". As illustrated again by residents coming and going from the apartment building where this latest case lived on Thursday night and yesterday morning, we cannot rely on people ‘‘doing the right thing’’.
At the same time, all of us must be disciplined and reject our all-too-common slackness and complacency.