We are very fortunate that to date very few people in NZ appear to have been infected by Coronavirus. This is probably largely due to the fact we are an island with no land borders, and even better a very remote island and one with a relatively small population.
But with WHO having declared that Coronavirus is a global pandemic, it would be naively optimistic to think we will be immune from further transmissions. Great if we are, but let’s not assume that. And of course even if we personally have few cases, the virus will still have a huge economic impact.
So what would I do if I was around the Cabinet table. Here’s my list:
- Close the border with Italy now. None of this self-quarantine crap. The virus is spreading there at the rate of 25% increase a day.
- Set an objective measure for closing borders (ie no inwards travel allowed from people who have been there) such as any country that has had over 5,000 infections (so for now China, Iran, Italy and South Korea)
- Encourage major event organisers to postpone their events
- Set up drive through testing centres asap. We must protect our hospital staff and medical centres staff.
- We know from overseas experience ICU beds run out very quickly if there is widespread cases. Work on a plan to set up temporary “hospitals” in major cities just for coronavirus cases. These may be in halls etc.
- Do an urgent RFP for face masks for local manufacturers so we can produce our own
- Do a universal support package for businesses. Normally I support a targeted approach but as so many sectors may be affected and flow onto other sectors, I think for once a universal approach is warranted. Wage subsidies as National did in Chch earthquake should be a large part of that.
- Pass a law mandating that any employees who need sick leave due to Coronavirus fears will have that sick leave paid by the Government (not the employer), and it will not be limited to five days, and will not be part of their entitlement with their employer.
- Delay the increase in the minimum wage until the economy has a quarter’s GDP growth which is positive (ie NZ out of recession)
- Instruct IRD to suspend all interest and penalties for late payments for employers who have otherwise paid on time for the last year.
- Do a tax cut just for the 20/21 financial year with the bottom tax rate dropping from 10.5% to 5%. Cost is a one off $2 billion and gives pretty much every person an extra $750. Also will flow on to benefit rates.
- Provide a line of credit to key institutions such as universities, airlines
I think we need a stronger response than wash your hand and please self quarantine.
UPDATE: I wrote this post earlier today before the US announced it was closing the border with Europe and before the Australian Government announced a policy response of $750 assistance per family.