Facing an uncertain world

We began this year with optimistic smiles. We were ready to start afresh.

 

Our lockdown had worked. Covid had been beaten back although not defeated. A travel bubble with Australia was close.

The Delta variant, however, somehow escaped managed isolation and infected our journey to normality.

Lockdowns returned, notably for more than 100 days in Auckland. Life and travel were disturbed and disrupted.

There is little point in relitigating the successes and the failures of the Government and the Ministry of Health, and there has been plenty of both. Suffice to say — and with the help of our ocean moat — New Zealand has reached the end of 2021 in better shape than most.

Our death toll remains low and the economy is apparently humming, albeit spurred by $55 billion in government bonds bought by the Reserve Bank.

The scope of this has accentuated present and looming inflation and has contributed to house-price and asset rises that have increased inequality and undermined society’s fabric.

Our vaccine rates for the eligible are remarkably high, and that is part of containing Delta.

We wait anxiously to see whether those rates — and the boosters and vaccinating of children — will play a sufficiently protective role when Omicron breaks through and as New Zealand opens to the world.

Living as a hermit Queendom has a limited shelf life. We rely on skilled immigration and families need to reconnect.

New Zealanders must, eventually, be able to return home and not rely on the luck of a MIQ lottery.

The divisions between the vaccinated and unvaccinated — the result of proportionate restrictions in the face of health dangers and the necessity to raise vaccination levels — will need before too long to be scaled back and healed.

High commodity prices, often so fickle, have helped save New Zealand’s bacon.

The Government, however, needs to stop spending far more than it earns, and this country requires the return of tourism and international education. Sections of the hospitality and the retail industry have been smashed.

The Government should also be wary of its emphasis on centralisation and on one-size-fits-all. Has it learned lessons from the difficulties in vaccination roll-out to Māori and Pasifika?

The Three Waters sledgehammer will prompt plenty more opposition, and one must wonder if a pandemic crisis is the best time for health board upheaval.

National failed all year to provide effective opposition. The election of Christopher Luxon as leader affords some hope for next year.

Both he and the Government should confront intense pressures about May when Labour lays out its specific climate change plans and National will need to respond. The reaction to the "ute" tax illustrates how every significant measure will incite strong reactions.

Internationally, the Copenhagen climate conference was neither the abject failure it could have been nor the success it needed to be.

The policies of the United States, even if the withdrawal from Afghanistan was a debacle, were saner than under erratic former president Donald Trump.

The other superpower, China, meanwhile, increased its assertiveness, engendering more suspicions around much of the globe.

If this era of the pandemic has taught us anything — and we will be two years since the first lockdown in March — it is that we live in especially uncertain times. Predictions are fraught.

Nevertheless, although we might enter 2022 somewhat chastened and less optimistic than 12 months ago, our inability to predict the future works both ways.

Perhaps, next year will be better than many expect.

Perhaps Omicron will be milder than feared.

Perhaps antivirals will hold their own.

Perhaps Covid can be corralled.

Maybe, progress can be achieved on climate change and catastrophic nature feedback loops avoided.

Whatever happens, as a small nation in the South Pacific, New Zealand will have to display adaptability and resilience.

We faced adversity and uncertainty on many fronts in the past. We will do so again.

 

 

 

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