Public pressure works

I’m much more satisfied with the Government’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic than I was a week ago.

I am still unsure about whether self quarantine is sufficient, as opposed to a ban. Questions I have are:

  1. Will there be legal sanctions for people who arrive and don’t self-quarantine for 14 days?
  2. Will there be regular checks on people to make sure they are in self-quarantine?
  3. If at home, does mean their family must stay at home also?
  4. Will incoming travelers have to fill in a declaration saying they agree to self-quarantine and providing details of where they will do it?
  5. If so, will such declarations be checked at airports, and if not satisfactory, entry denied?

Now what I find interesting is what a radical departure the measures announced over the weekend were, compared to what the Government was saying during the week.

Take the issue of public events such as Pasifika and the March 15 memorials. The PM kept repeating that the advice is that there is no community transmission in NZ, so no need to cancel them. Then at the weekend both of them were cancelled at basically they very last minute? Why? There still has not been any known community transmission, so the underlying data around that hasn’t changed. What changed is the analysis.

Basically the Government worked out that if they allowed the events to continue, and it later turned out someone with Coronavirus attended and infected others, they’d be blamed. They’d probably lose the election on this. That’s not just my view, but former Labour staffers on were saying much the same and calling for tougher restrictions otherwise the Government would lose the election.

Now look isn’t a bad thing. Having a Government respond to public pressure is often a good thing. We saw it with the Key Government who did a u-turn within 48 hours on Syrian refugees as it became apparent their initial stance would damage them politically.

The larger point I’m trying to make is that those who argue these decisions are based purely on advice are either naive or dissembling. They have tried to stop any criticism of the Government by saying you can’t have a contrary view unless you are an expert in public health, as the Government is merely following the health professionals.

Well I am not an expert in public but I am an expert in how Government and political decision making works. And the notion that everything the Government has decided is merely implementing the recommendations of the Director-General of Health and his staff is farcical.

Don’t get me wrong – they are an invaluable source of information, but they will be providing options and information. They will spell our benefits and risks, but the Ministers decide what the right mix is, and part of that calculation is of course political.

If you were not worried about the or politics, and your only aim is to minimise Coronavirus in NZ you would have three weeks ago closed all borders, closed all schools and ban all public events. But that would have had a huge economic and political impact.

On the restrictions just a few days ago the Government was saying there was no need to ban travel beyond China and Iran. Then on Saturday it was a “soft ban” on travel from every country on Earth (bar Pacific Islands). Why? Did any new data come out that was inconsistent with what the Government knew four days earlier? The exponential rate of infection has been known for well over a week. Going from 5 to 6 confirmed cases in NZ is not why you’d go from very lax restrictions to very tight.

Basically it was public pressure. More and more people were saying the response wasn’t tough enough, and more and more other Governments were taking stronger measures. left the Government in desperate danger of being blamed for further infections, so they came out with a much much tougher package, despite the fact the known facts hadn’t changed in the last few days.

Now again is not a bad thing. I’m not saying the Government doesn’t care about minimising the numbers infected. If National were Government,. they’d be making the exact same calculations. What I’m saying it those who have argued you shouldn’t criticise their decisions were dead wrong. If it wasn’t for such criticism (and no I am not including myself, as criticism from me doesn’t count) then it is less likely they would have taken these stronger measures.

Oh and on a final different note, very unimpressed with the Australian who flew to Wellington despite suspecting he had Coronavirus and was awaiting the results of a test.Why the hell couldn’t he wait until he had the test results?

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