Compliance and Delta outbreaks

New Zealand has just spent another day on the edge.

After the frightening news that young people had been at potential super-spreader locations — a church, a large school and a casino — came indications yesterday that the Covid-19 Delta variant might not have been in the community that long.

It might still be possible to surround the cases as well as breaking the lines of transmission. Lockdown is, of course, pivotal to that.

In turn, lockdowns depend on compliance. Leaky lockdowns create the channels for further spread.

How much will New Zealanders, the "team of five million", co-operate to eliminate the scourge this time around?

So far so good.

Most New Zealanders try to do the right thing in a crisis. That then creates momentum, a herd effect that pulls others along.

This country has also been spared long periods of repeated lockdowns, conditions which create lockdown fatigue and unwillingness to collaborate.

Nevertheless, it has been hard for the assiduous QR scanners when they have stood out as the exception rather than the norm, fastidiously scanning while others walk right past.

Mask wearing on city, regional and national bus services has been deteriorating.

As well, people have become increasingly lackadaisical about being tested when ill.

In contrast, mask-wearing on planes pushed by the airlines and freely available masks has been impressive.

The nation’s thanks should go to the infected 58-year-old man who travelled to the Coromandel. The alarm was raised on this outbreak sooner than might otherwise have occurred because he decided to be tested. Even a day or two makes a big difference under Delta.

New South Wales, rightly, is being held up as the cautionary tale. Not only did Sydney lock down "late and slow" but compliance there has been poor. The march and mingling of the disaffected, social gatherings galore and overall slackness destroyed the chance to contain this ever-worsening epidemic.

New Zealanders, though, seem to be complying with the basic rules of lockdown in sufficient numbers that make the blatant rule breakers stand out.

This critical mass cajoles and encourages compliance from others who might be reluctant to co-operate. New Zealanders, faced with such high stakes, are also proving willing to dob-in.

The communication competence of the Prime Minister and relatively consistent and simpler messaging also helps.

By contrast, for example, hardware stores are considered essential services in Sydney but not in Melbourne. That is just one example of how the rules across the Tasman are more complex.

Not that New Zealanders should be smug. Those scan-in rates were appalling. Further, Australia still leads the way with mask-wearing, one of the important defences to airborne aerosol infection.

Because of that means of spread, official Covid instructions are that everyone is asked to wear a mask when leaving home. That is not compulsory, and few are doing so even while mask compliance has stepped up at supermarkets where they are mandated.

The call that masks should be made compulsory for those who work in essential workplaces, like food processors, to wear is also more than just sensible.

The Government and the Ministry of Health, despite the successes so far of previous lockdowns and the widespread support for them, have been too slow and too inflexible in several ways.

New Zealand, in particular, has got away so far with the late vaccination rollout.

We were warned that outbreaks were a matter of when, not if. And so, it came to pass.

We have also been advised incursions will likely be more common once New Zealand begins to open up to the world next year.

Clearly, compliance needs to extend beyond crises if New Zealand is to enjoy Covid-free lifestyles and freedoms.

Much-improved tracing via the app, or on paper for those without the technology, and more frequent Covid testing will be required of us all.

If we get through this outbreak, we will have received an abrupt and salutary warning to do better.


A good editorial, a shame that you did not write it a month ago when it might have been useful.
You claim that the Govt and the Health Ministry have been "too slow and too inflexible in several ways" but neglect to mention what these are. Seems a bit slack for an editorial on such an important topic.
You do mention the late vaccination roll out as an issue. I suspect you may be intending to indicate this as one of the several failings. If so it is not a well thought out criticism. The vaccination roll out is entirely down to the District Health Boards. Apart from giving them this responsibility, and who else would they give it to, the Govt has not been directly involved.
The rollout was slow because the DHB's are inefficient and and ineffectual but they alone hold responsibility, not the Govt. However, even so you offer recognition that despite the slow start DHB's are now performing extremely well with vaccinations going full steam. I put this down to the dedication of the DHB staff around the country, not DHB management and governance. It takes time for these dinosaurs to build up steam.
Yes it would have been good to be further ahead, but it is what it is.

Anomie, more than lackadaisicality.