Masks: better late than never

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
The Government and New Zealand have been living the charmed life with Covid. We, at first, thought that suppression would be the best policy. The peaks of infection and serious sickness would be levelled off and hospitals would not be overwhelmed.

We then moved to the elimination strategy, a wise course for isolated islands that shut the borders and ensured satisfactory compliance with the rules.

Once on that path, we were told repeatedly we were going hard and we were going fast. New Zealand was, indeed, firm in its regulations. Although outdoor exercise was allowed, retail was limited to supermarkets and pharmacies, and schools were shut. While we had the advantage of the first surge lagging behind much of the world, we did lockdown reasonably quickly.

But we also remember the mistakes, notably supposed testing of border staff that did not occur and the ease with which people escaped managed isolation in the first weeks.

Overall, nevertheless, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was no-nonsense. The pleas from butchers, bakers and other food retailers were brushed aside in the effort to banish Covid. The "health" response was paramount.

As New Zealanders, we hand over the power of coercion in certain circumstances to our Government. Freedoms were substantially curtailed for the greater cause, for the public pandemic emergency.

However, as levels dropped, the Government has been hesitant to bring in suitable supportive measures. Sure, it was strong enough to order a second Auckland lockdown. It responded with alacrity to the latest outbreak and it has been implacable on border bubbles, despite the economic and social costs. It is estimated, for example, last week’s call for Auckland residents to stay away from the central city cost $10million alone.

But the Government has been too slow to listen to the experts on certain matters which would not have been economically costly. It is as if Ms Ardern, again, wants to try too hard to bring everyone with her rather than lead from the front.

The pleas to mask-up and contact-record obviously were being ignored by the public. Finally, after what is estimated to be eight border failures and several lucky escapes, masks will be mandated in some situations from today.

While the Government did not want to bring in rules that would be disregarded, people need the prompt and the push to mask-up. Once momentum is created, once it becomes the norm, mask use will spread. Social pressure, instead of being on those standing out in their face coverings, will be on those without masks.

Initially, it makes sense for enforcement to be light-handed. But, after a while New Zealanders will expect those non-complying to face fines and sanctions.

The stakes are so high. Adelaide this week, and Melbourne earlier, have shown how quickly and insidiously the virus can spread.

Mask use on public transport should be not just for Auckland. Other centres have isolation hotels, and ports remain another potential entry point. This is a mobile country, and an estimated 1900 Aucklanders are in the Queenstown Marathon fields this weekend.

Carrying masks should be just what New Zealanders do. It is not just taxi drivers but also their passengers who should wear masks. Secondary students on buses should also be covered.

The Government, after the initial lockdown, has been too slow and too reactive. Improvements follow rather than precede issues arising.

A Government that claims to be informed by science could have done more under Alert Level 1.

Today marks a major step in the right direction. Additional mask rules, improved contact recording and refinements of isolation and quarantine policies and practices will further increase the odds of the essential elimination strategy succeeding.

Comments

The first major flaw of COVID prevention is masks. Masks are hot, itchy and uncomfortable. Wearing a mask to go out or visit someone for more than an hour is just too much to ask! Expecting anyone to wear a mask for even 30 minutes is just too unrealistic, not to mention that masks keep germs from your mouth and nose inside the masks and circulating around you, leaving you at risk. Here is a pro-tip: always take off your mask when you sneeze or cough. That way, all of the germs you are expelling get blown away from you and thus keep you safer. Since times have been so hard for everyone, being in touch with friends and family is essential to coping with current events. Yet, some doctors and scientists across the country are trying to stop this amazing form of connection. What credentials do they have that make them smarter than us? To think that people would frown upon spending time with distant family or in friendly gatherings without masks is just an absolutely ridiculous thought. Being socially isolated from others can cause depression, anxiety and substance abuse, amongst other potentially fatal mental illnesses. Wearing masks is dangerous!

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