Covid 19 coronavirus: Audrey Young – Fresh strategy required to eliminate every excuse

OPINION:

The Government’s metaphorical high-viz vest passed temporarily from Chris Hipkins to Kiritapu Allan yesterday as a new crisis presented itself.

But the verdict on the Government’s response to yesterday’s tsunami threat could be some time away.

Allan, 37, is the youngest member of the Cabinet and was given responsibility by Jacinda Ardern in October last year to oversee emergency management.

She is an intelligent, personable and energetic young woman. On the face of it, she and officials handled the crisis well.

She knew her job; she knew that the public wanted to hear from the emergency and scientific experts, Roger Ball and Bill Fry, more than her, but was realistic and reassuring in her own communications.

Their messages were clear.

Her next important job will be to commission a granular review of the response, work out what went wrong, what can be improved for next time and make sure the improvements are implemented.

Whatever mistakes were made, they need to be considered in light of the fact that never have civil defence authorities ordered such a large-scale evacuation.

Hipkins, the Covid Response Minister, and Ministry of health head Ashley Bloomfield do not have similar excuses.

They have been working together on Covid management since last July when Hipkins was appointed to crack the whip on the Ministry of Health to be more responsive.

Auckland’s second lockdown for 2021 suggests the whip needs to be brought out again.

The so-call Valentine’s Cluster is clearly misnamed – it is the least-loved lockdown of all we’ve had.

It has pitted the team of five million epidemiologists against each other.

It is the loathed lockdown because it is the one we could have avoided if only people had used their common sense and been honest with officials when it was required of them.

Unlike the August lockdown, it has been fairly obvious where the mistakes have been made, by authorities and by locals in the bid to get the virus surrounded and under control.

The current lockdown shattered the sense of satisfaction after the short-sharp three-day lockdown last month.

The scourge of Covid surfaced 10 days later, after, it turns out, two mothers violated the level 3 lockdown rules.

Mothers N and F in the alphabet of cases, went for a walk during the three-day lockdown, and kept it a secret even after one of them had tested positive and had been carted off to Jet Park. That did not precipitate the second lockdown.

For once, a flash of anger was more appropriate for our Pollyana Prime Minister.

Lockdown was necessary because several people in the Papatoetoe school community had behaved as though Covid were something they had never heard of before, and despite being ill themselves, carried on exposing thousands of others in South Auckland to potential infection.

Just in the past day it has emerged that one of the four families had an undisclosed lodger living with them.

There has been a pile-on against Jacinda Ardern for her apparent audacity in criticising a woman who went to work while sick and later tested positive.

But it is a matter of form over substance.

It is true that there was no explicit instruction to the woman, Case L, to stay home, get tested and to isolate. But her family received 21 texts or phone calls about getting tested, and it took her sibling at Papatoetoe High School eight days to get tested. There is just no excuse.

For once, a flash of anger was more appropriate for our Pollyanna Prime Minister.

Ardern has no need to apologise to anyone because in substance she is correct. The second lockdown in Auckland this year would not have happened if people had taken responsibility for their own actions instead of finding excuses.

However, there are clear lessons from the Valentine’s cluster. Ardern needs to insist that Hipkins get tougher with the Ministry of Health on the way it approaches new outbreaks.

Bloomfield has to simplify his communication. Abolish “casual-plus” categories; just keep it at close and casual. It is more important to describe the action required – stay home and get a test – than to give it a title.

Second, adopt Judith Collins’ proposal for the Government to pay people in full if they are directed to isolate for two weeks. There should be no excuse for people not to stay home to help fight Covid. It will help avoid lockdowns and may save wage subsidy payments in the long run.

Third, Hipkins needs to commend Bloomfield for the eventual targeting of a wider group of casual contacts for testing and/or isolation in this cluster, 5000, and get him to continue that approach.

He also needs to get the ministry to issue more “instruction” than “encouragement”.

In essence, if people insist on being told what to do, that is what should happen. And there should be less tolerance of slow coaches. If people do not respond to instructions, doors should be knocked on.

Eliminate options, give clear directions and there can be no more excuses.

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