“It’s time to move on from fear and take back control of our lives from unending government restrictions,” says ACT Leader David Seymour....

“It’s time to move on from fear and take back control of our lives from unending government restrictions,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

ACT today released the fourth in a series of policy documents on COVID-19. As the virus changes, New Zealand’s policy response must change with it.

“The paper examines the Government’s various COVID restrictions including scanning and contact tracing, isolation requirements, masking requirements, the booster roll out, vaccine requirements, MIQ, the Traffic Light Framework, and the ban on importing rapid antigen tests. It finds that, apart from the booster roll out and mask requirements, none of these policies are effective or worth their costs and should be dropped.

“Fatigue is setting in after nearly two years of restrictions. There’s a growing appetite for an end to government controls in favour of freedom – for people to take back control of their own lives.

“Omicron is a ‘whole new virus’ and as such requires different policy responses from previous variants. Its higher infectiousness means preventing spread is more costly and its lower virulence means that the benefits of preventing cases are smaller than with Delta and other variants.

“As we approach a wave of Omicron, people are understandably fearful – we have been conditioned to be fearful for two years.

“However, if you fear Omicron, it’s even more important that the Government’s response makes sense. We can’t continue to take ineffective measures; for example, contact tracing and isolation rules that ask most people to isolate after their infectious period begins and for long after it is over.

“If we go through the current interventions, we find a mishmash of rules that don’t make sense and interventions designed for Delta and earlier variants where the costs now outweigh any benefits.

“Cost-benefit analysis is something that people do every day. People often make a list of pros and cons when they make a decision, weighing up the costs and benefits. The Government has not done that for its various COVID-19 interventions. ACT has long advocated that the Government’s COVID-19 response consider all the costs to New Zealanders’ wellbeing as well as the benefits of fighting COVID-19 when putting controls in place.

“In the absence of the Government carrying out a cost-benefit analysis, ACT has done it for them:

  • Scanning and contact tracing: Contact tracing creates relatively minor costs, but also delivers negligible benefits because it does not reach enough potential contacts or reach them fast enough in light of Omicron’s higher transmissibility. It results in some people isolating because they are “pinged” but often not in time to prevent them from transmitting the virus. The resulting isolation that comes from being pinged is a growing disaster for business and supply chains. The requirement for businesses to display codes and have people scan in should be dropped, along with the requirement to contact trace cases, because it’s just not working. Dropping these requirements would be an important symbol that we are moving on and getting our way of life back. It should be done immediately.
  • Isolation: Requirements must adapt to the scientific evidence. Keeping people locked in their houses longer than is necessary imposes real costs to them and the economy, without improving our COVID-19 response. As soon as a case receives a negative result, whenever that occurs after the initial 72 hours, they should be free to go.
  • Mask requirements: Well-worn and high-quality masks can help prevent spread. Mask wearing likely has significant benefits for reducing the spread of Omicron, although this is sensitive to mask quality. While extremely irritating, it is one of the few current policies where it is reasonable to believe that the benefits outweigh the costs.
  • Boosters: Relative to a two-shot regimen, booster shots significantly reduce the likelihood of death and serious illness due to COVID-19. There is a limited cost. Boosters are an important way to reduce the costs of the inevitable spread of Omicron through the community. Nonetheless, given most of the benefits of booster doses go to those who get boosted, there is little case for mandating them.
  • Vaccine requirements: It is difficult to justify a vaccination mandate purely on the grounds that it reduces hospitalisation risk for unvaccinated people themselves and thus pressure on the health system. This effect has already reached saturation. Unless a new requirement for boosters is introduced, mandating is having negligible effect on vaccine uptake and should be dropped immediately.
  • MIQ: The personal and commercial costs of MIQ are immense. It is decimating whole industries, separating families, and denying business and travel opportunities to the whole country. The humane and rational response of the Government would be to dump MIQ now, rather than phase it out over the coming eight months. It doesn’t work, ties up valuable resources, and is unimaginably cruel. People are justified in asking why we keep doing it. Our objective must be to safely reconnect with the world. Allowing people to enter New Zealand with no greater isolation requirements than are needed for domestic cases should be done immediately.
  • Traffic Light Framework: The Government has dashed large events and hospitality businesses at enormous cost with little consideration for what the benefits might be. If they have cost-benefit analysis for Omicron, they have not presented it. We have been asked to accept these restrictions with no idea whether they will leave us better off or by how much. Unless the Government can show the benefits of restricting large events in an Omicron environment, in terms of reducing the peak demand on hospital capacity, the Traffic Light System should be dumped immediately so we can all move on.
  • Ban on importing RATs: There are no benefits to the ban, but the costs are considerable. The Government should adopt ACT’s policy that New Zealanders can import any test that is approved by authorities in Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, or the European Union.

“We should not keep ineffective and costly rules because they make us feel comfortable. If rules are not useful they should go, and it should be up to the Government that imposes them on us to explain why they should stay. It’s time to stop the fear and the control. It’s time to move on.”

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