These extraordinary times have a surreal quality in Auckland. On a personal level, being confined to home with my family during a period of golden weather is providing a special time. I spend most of my day (and evening) on the phone or Zoom; it’s amazing how productive we can be without having to travel around and when most meetings are eliminated.
And yet, we wake each morning with a deep knot in the pit of our stomachs about what’s happening to our country. There is the great health threat, which mercifully hasn’t yet fully broken on our shores. But more immediately, our jobs and livelihoods are being ravaged by the lock down.
Thousands of people are facing unemployment and an uncertain future. Countless other men and women have spent years, or decades, building businesses and social enterprises – investing financially and emotionally in them – relying on their value for their retirement, and out of the blue, for no fault of their own, they are seeing all that work washed away, like a castle in the sand. There is deep anxiety across the community.
I’ve spent much of the week on the Epidemic Response Committee, a virtual select committee set up to retain a measure of Parliamentary oversight while Parliament isn’t sitting. It was an excellent effort by Simon Bridges, the PM and the Speaker to agree on this structure.
If you're interested, you can tune in to the livestream of the committee (next sitting at 10am on Tuesday) and watch the previous meetings at the link below.
This morning I also did an interview on Radio New Zealand. Check it out if you have five minutes.
The overwhelming conclusion for me is obvious, but we need to concentrate on it – it is critical that we get out of the lock down as quickly as we safely can. The burden, in terms of overall wellbeing, of a long lock down would be unbearable.
So, from there, the focus must be on ensuring the current lock down is effective, in getting on top of the virus.
On Tuesday we heard from Professor Sir David Skegg that we need to be doing much more testing. Specifically we need to test across the community, to understand its spread across the community. Currently, we’re in the dark.
The other critical thing is to stop lock down leakage. Most of the cases have come from overseas, New Zealanders returning. And yet our arrangements at the border have been loose for a long time. Even now, people are arriving at the border and if they’re not showing symptoms, they’re sent off home to self-isolate.
We know from the health officials, that people may be carrying the virus without yet showing symptoms.
The Prime Minister says those recent arrivals in self-isolation will get a visit from Police. We had the Police Commissioner before the committee yesterday. We were staggered to learn that those visits hadn’t taken place. The plan, going forward, is for a text message.
When we’re putting so much strain on the country to be in lock down, surely we can close the barn door more effectively at the border. Simon Bridges has said all new arrivals should go into quarantine. It’s no fun, but we have to make this work, so we can get out of lock down as soon as we can.
Meantime, the focus has turned to the wage subsidy and various other efforts to help otherwise healthy businesses get through a period with zero revenue.
We’ve supported the government’s efforts and said they will probably have to go further. We can’t save every business, but we need to remember this has come about because of government decisions, for public health reasons. The task is to reduce the number of otherwise sound businesses that fail, so that people stay in jobs and we are in the best position to bounce back.
We have also asked for more transparency about the state of the economy. We know that more than 6 million people have become jobless in the US; we have no idea what the figure is in New Zealand. The Minister of Finance has refused to release anything from the Treasury. The Government is very quick to release worst case scenarios in the health sphere, but leaves us in the dark on the economic consequences. This can’t carry on.
We’ll be back at the committee next Tuesday and will do our best to test the government constructively, as we search for the best solutions.
Wishing you and your bubble the very best through these extraordinary times.