Tough Covid calls every other day

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the largest shipments will arrive in the latter half of July....
The times of reckoning continue as Covid advances. Community case numbers reached a record 162 yesterday.

Auckland’s community spread is inexorably growing, and the incursions into Waikato and Northland threaten. Alarms ring in Blenheim and then Christchurch.

Auckland’s outbreak has been forcing the Government’s hand.

"Levels" are to change to "traffic lights", and it seems a tough Covid call must be made every other day.

After Cabinet met yesterday afternoon, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a step towards loosening Auckland controls. This is to take effect next week.

Inevitably, different quarters have reacted with dismay or frustration.

One of the toughest decisions was on no jab and no job. Last week Ms Ardern, who had earlier said she did not plan to create an "us and them" and two classes of citizens, reversed her position on wider employee vaccination requirements.

Staff working in close-contact businesses, like customers, will have to be vaccinated as will those in the primary industry if that is needed for market access reasons.

It was estimated, in addition to other mandates, about 40% of workers would be covered.

That proportion will grow. Police, surprisingly, are not yet included. And what about front-facing staff who then work with other colleagues? What about contractors and suppliers? What about other staff who do not want to work with the unvaccinated? Where do the immune-compromised fit in? What about the health and safety imperatives?

The Government has provided a steer for some employers and clearer and simplified risk assessment is promised. Nevertheless, employers are still pushing into unknown waters wondering what to do and how to do it?

Those who decline to be vaccinated will find work opportunities dry up. Many, if they stick to their convictions, will lose jobs and careers.

The Government would, of course, have preferred to avoid the harsh choices. We as a society are splintering. Such rules accentuate divisions.

While this is a big deal, the end of safety justifies these means.

Such is the need to protect ourselves, others, and our vulnerable health system, that Ms Ardern was correct in this balancing of freedoms and rights.

Politically, it was a good call because the majority favours strict measures.

Medically, it was required to enhance the safety of both the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

Serious Delta infections, despite this country’s reasonably promising inoculation rates, will still run amuck among the hundreds of thousands remaining unvaccinated.

That number should fall as they face their own difficult decisions. Reports from the United States show that many of those "hesitant" or "anti" relent when the job crunch comes.

They might feel they are "bullied", a word National leader Judith Collins has used in her confusing reaction to the announcement. Another way of looking at it is as "tough love".

Ahead lies the implementation of vaccination certificates for the public and employees and the freedoms commensurate with them under the traffic-light system.

Unfortunately, many months have been wasted and the certificates are not yet ready. Hopefully, a failure to deliver will not hold up the arrival of enhanced liberties for the double vaccinated.

The Government has also had to make challenging recent calls on the likes of pupils returning to school in Auckland, changes to MIQ and on those alert levels and stages within them.

Every choice brings criticism as being too permissive or too strict.

Even tougher decisions lie ahead, notably because a handful of district health boards look unlikely to reach their double-vaccination 90% target before January, if at all.

The Government is, as well, going to have to decide how long Covid-compromised Auckland will be penned in – even with its own greater traffic-light freedoms looming.

If most of the rest of the country remains Covid free, Aucklanders will not be able to be let loose elsewhere, even for Christmas.