No place for nimbyism in Covid fight

Hamish Walker
Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Imagine spending a fortnight in Christchurch, stuck in a hotel room with an unfamiliar newspaper and your senses dulled by endless, window-framed views of a wintry Canterbury sky. You might have it better, or worse, in Auckland, Rotorua or Wellington: all nice places, but surely made worse by you having to be so far from home.

This is happening to countless southerners now, during quarantine and managed isolation. With facilities in so few centres, they must spend weeks in unfamiliar surrounds.

They are among more than 25,000 returning Kiwis who, since April, have waited out their mandatory two-week quarantine or isolation at a clutch of centres around the country.

Many were there when the Government confirmed the pressure on the facilities was such that it would investigate establishing others at places further afield.

Hamilton will soon greet its first returning New Zealanders but more centres are needed as the number of people under watch grows to the mid 6000s. Early feasibility work has started and Dunedin and Queenstown hotels are in the mix.

On the face of it, opening facilities in the South makes perfect sense. It is home to many returnees, it has airports and it has many rooms available. Let’s not forget it is also part of New Zealand.

The Covid-19 All-of-Government Response Group says facilities have to meet strict criteria, and have comprehensive public health and safety measures. It will be safe for neighbouring businesses, schools and events to operate as normal, just as they have elsewhere.

After all — baring the odd early and untested release — the facilities have been operating safely for months. There remains no evidence of community transmission of Covid-19.

Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins surely had one eye on the evidence and on the Government’s redoubled quarantine response, when he said his city was ready to play its part as long as its people could be kept safe.

The Covid-19 response is not somebody else’s fight and there is no room for misguided nimbyism, he said. These are our citizens and we as a city need to do our bit to help; after all, "we are still part of the team of five million”.

His message reflects the public mood, even if we continue to argue who should pay for returnees’ stay in isolation. After months of collective sacrifice, there remains a broad understanding that this is a whole-of-nation fight against a whole-of-world pandemic. Even our politicians are relatively united in saying we are all in this together.

Given this, it was entirely right that National Party leader Todd Muller expressed his "disappointment" and "concern" at Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker’s misguided — at best — statement as to the origin of the people likely to be quarantined in the South.

Mr Walker noted "these people are possibly heading for Dunedin, Invercargill and Queenstown from India, Pakistan and Korea." As specific as he was as to their origin, he neglected to say "these people" are also citizens and permanent residents who are entitled to come home.

Mr Hawkins called it racist dog whistling, the Prime Minister said it was inappropriate and Mr Muller said he could not condone what was said. Yesterday, Mr Walker said it was a mere statement of fact, and from a source who told him what may happen.

But it is also a fact many of "these people" will come from Indonesia, England, the Philippines, Scotland, Malaysia, Wales, Ireland, France, the United States, Canada and China. So far, most have come from Australia. They may have family here, they will spend their money here, and many will work here.

Mr Walker said he had many messages from residents who do not want quarantining in Queenstown. He is urged to pass them on when the Government and defence services explore their plans with local leaders, which they have committed to do.

He should also press for safety and oversight, for the benefit of the South and all New Zealanders, because nimbyism and selective scaremongering will not make the Covid-19 threat go away.


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