We can’t keep living with the uncertainty that we could be locked down again at any moment. It’s time to look to the future with a renewed sense of confidence and start planning for life beyond lockdowns.
Delta has changed the game, with the lockdowns no longer short, no longer sharp, and the periods of freedom likely to be shorter. All the while, isolation remains a growing problem.
For many New Zealanders, these costs are becoming acute and often harrowing. Business associations report rock bottom mental health scores from their members who face serious cashflow problems and great uncertainty about the future. Children are anxious about missing school, and medical operations are being deferred while private practice is shut down.
With the eradication strategy no longer viable, there needs to be a change of approach, based on five movements:
1. Recognise that eradication no longer stacks up. We must move to a policy of harm minimisation. This policy should aim to reduce transmission, hospitalisation, and death from COVID at the least possible cost of overall wellbeing.
2. Move from isolating whole cities to isolating only those who it makes sense to isolate. Personal isolation should be restricted to three groups: those who are medically vulnerable and require special protection, those who have recently arrived in New Zealand and are privately isolating, and those who have tested positive as part of widespread surveillance testing.
3. Move from chronic fear and uncertainty and get on a clear path to restoring freedom. We should settle when the vaccine rollout is ‘complete’ and aim to get Kiwis home for Christmas.
4. Move from a ‘government knows best’ approach to an approach of openness, and host all in ‘sprints’. In each sprint, the business community and all of society are invited to help reach clearly identified goals of lower transmission rates, hospitalisations and deaths, in time for reopening.
5. The entire tone of New Zealand’s COVID response should shift from fear and a singular focus on public health to a focus on maximising overall wellbeing.
New Zealanders are ready to open up to the world, get back to school, get back to business, regain our freedoms, and live our lives to our best potential.
Our COVID 3.0 plan can be found here.
A full list of initiatives contained in COVID 3.0:
Move to a new strategy of harm minimisation by scaling up vaccination, future proofing the test and trace system, and bolstering hospital resources
1. Partner with community groups including GPs and pharmacies to boost vaccine delivery
2. Offer increasing financial incentives to organisations that succeed in getting people vaccinated as the number of unvaccinated increases
3. Maintain proactive follow up of priority groups
4. Scale up ‘Mr Whippy’ style door to door initiatives for vaccination and testing
5. Lift the ban on rapid antigen testing
6. Contract for and scale up saliva testing to be rolled out across the community
7. Ensure frequent and widespread wastewater testing with daily and transparent reporting to alert people that testing may be required
8. Reengage with the developer of the NZ COVID Tracer App
9. Offer incentives for using the app to increase the effectiveness of digital contact tracing
10. Social distancing and masking should be promoted on the basis that they reduce transmission rather than in an arbitrary fashion
11. Transmission reduction should focus on reducing transmission to vulnerable groups, such as those in rest homes, in proportion to the risk of hospitalisation and death
12. Invest in new treatments, such as mono-clonal antibodies that can speed recovery, to reduce time spent in hospital by COVID patients
13. Treatment outside hospital should be investigated with a view to reducing hospitalisation. For example, blood oxygen monitors should be issued to positive cases who may require hospitalisation, with instructions to admit themselves only if their blood oxygen levels drop to a given level
14. ICU surge capacity should be expanded.
Move from blanket isolation to isolating three groups to achieve the overall goals
15. Recent arrivals who may have COVID due to having travelled to places with COVID should be required to isolate at home or similar, with the isolation period depending on their test history, including tests taken before travel, and the risk associated with the place they travelled from
16. Those who have tested positive or suspect they have a case should be required to isolate to prevent further transmission
17. Those vulnerable to COVID due to underlying health conditions, and especially their age, should have protocols in place to protect them from transmission. This should include strict protocols for retirement villages, put in place in cooperation with the sector
18. The first two categories of people should be required to isolate according to stated protocols with existing penalties in place and random checks by Police. Those isolating for their own protection should be given the protocols for their own protection but not sanctioned.
Set a clear pathway towards freedom
19. Provisionally aim for the vaccine rollout to end pre-Christmas when everyone has been able to access two doses
20. Drop MIQ requirements for people from low-risk countries who’ve met suitable testing and private isolation requirements
21. Repeal the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act in early 2022
22. Replace powers with bespoke legislation to implement any new requirements used to reduce transmission rates, hospitalisation, and death from COVID-19. This legislation in turn should be time-limited and reviewed like the current legislation, but with far less discretionary power for government.
Adopt an all in ‘sprint’ mentality, not a government knows best approach
23. Open up the government strategy to those most affected and those with expertise in delivering results.
24. Set goals and invite public submissions to achieve new targets for reducing transmission, hospitalisation, and death, e.g.
• co-design self-isolation for travel with businesses
• co-design social distancing with hospitality industry
• invite industry to develop contact tracing solutions in open design competition
25. Exempt COVID treatments and technologies from the Medsafe approval process, if a treatment or technology is approved by U.S., Australia, U.K. or E.U.
Move from fear and public health to optimism and balanced wellbeing
26. Abandon the rhetoric of fear and embrace a wellbeing approach.