Testing times ahead

As detected cases of Covid-19 surge by thousands each day, the next few weeks will be testing times for many New Zealanders, literally and figuratively.

In the South, so far most cases have been in young people, but the ease with which the Omicron variant spreads means it will creep into other parts of the population sooner rather than later.

The hope is that the most vulnerable will be able to avoid the disease and that the symptoms of most others who encounter it will be manageable at home because of their vaccination protection.

Now testing has moved to mainly rapid antigen testing, the supply of tests must be sufficient, and reliable, with tests able to be readily distributed to where they are most needed.

Not all will be confident about that yet.

It is also a testing time for the Government which will come under increasing pressure to ease restrictions.

Arguments for changes are beefing up and indeed it is hard to see how the Government can justify continuing with the current Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) and self isolation rules for visitors when Covid-19 is running rampant in the community.

From today, fully vaccinated New Zealand citizens and residents can enter the country from Australia but are required to self isolate for seven days.

The Strategic Covid-19 Public Health Advisory Group led by Prof Sir David Skegg has been asked to provide what the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern calls "rapid advice" on controls for those coming in at the border.

For many of those affected, this cannot come soon enough.

Ms Ardern has indicated other restrictions will be eased once the peak of the current outbreak is over, when hospitalisation rates are at normal levels, and the health system is seen as coping.

People demanding times and dates for all changes now are unreasonably expecting Ms Ardern to be a soothsayer and would be the first to criticise the Government if things turned to custard after any specified dates.

The Government will not want to risk throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Those concerned too many workplaces have been affected by requirements for Covid-19 vaccinations and that the Government’s decision-making process around their introduction was inadequate will have taken succour from the High Court judgement released last week involving police and defence force personnel.

Justice Cooke, in a 40-page judgement, ruled the order mandating vaccinations for the two organisations was not justified and unlawful.

He found the order mandating for them was imposed to ensure the continuity of those services and to promote public confidence in them rather than to stop the spread of Covid-19.

But no real evidence was presented to show this was necessary.

The number of staff was small and could have been covered by the organisations’ existing vaccine policies.

Health advice provided to the Government was that this further mandate was not needed for the purpose of limiting the spread of Covid-19.

The threat posed to the continuity of police and defence staff existed for both vaccinated and unvaccinated staff.

He upheld the claims that applicants’ rights to refuse a medical treatment and the right to manifest religious beliefs had been unjustifiably limited by the mandate.

The Government has yet to say whether it will appeal this decision.

In the meantime, it is likely to be trumpeted as a win by anti-mandate protesters (even if the judgement’s very existence challenges the view of those who say New Zealand is a totalitarian state).

It may also prompt some businesses to review their health and safety decisions on requirements for their staff to see if they are still relevant, particularly with the hoped-for increased availability of Rats.

What must not be forgotten, however, is that Justice Cooke is clear his judgement is not questioning the effectiveness and importance of vaccination, including the booster, to improve the prospect of avoiding serious illness and death.

 

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