We thought we could live Covid-free in return for sacrificing international links. ACT argued that price was too high and we needed smarter borders, but now domestic restrictions are added to the price. Free Press believes the price is unsustainable, and a rethink is necessary. This week, Free Press argues that a 'wellbeing' approach is necessary for weighing the competing concerns in fighting Covid-19.
What Sort of Rethink?
Some people think living with Covid-19 means being like Sweden. That’s not living with it, that’s dying with it. Others think it means being like Victoria. Actually, we basically are like Victoria, we just caught an outbreak sooner. The trick is to start comparing our Government’s performance with the best rather than the worst.
Take New Zealand’s choice of Australian states when doing a comparison. The Government and media have chosen Victoria for weeks because it is the one that makes us feel better. They forget that there are eight other states and territories doing very well, arguably better given international students are returning to Australia. The Government has squandered the time for reflection and improvement on indulgent self-congratulation.
Counting All Costs
Being safe from Covid-19 itself is one challenge we currently face. But we also need to think about the academic achievement of students missing school. The mental health of small business owners losing their jobs. The healthcare of those missing out on screening programs and elective surgery. Then there is the $1 billion cost of a fortnight’s lockdown, equivalent to the annual Pharmac budget.
Lockdowns Bad for Wellbeing
Counting all the costs of lockdown, the strategy is clearly unsustainable. So, what is the alternative? If the Swedish model is out then we need an alternative. Thankfully, it has never been far away.
Best in Class
Taiwan is the clear winner on an overall wellbeing analysis. The Taiwanese economy is forecast to actually grow this year, while the world contracts. That headline figure represents all of the other activities that contribute to wellbeing and have carried on despite the global crisis. How did they do it?
One: Have a Central Command
Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Centre is the one stop shop for coordinating relevant resources. It is multidisciplinary and crosses the boundary between public and private. It is a vastly superior approach to simply having the Ministry of Health, which is responsible for the state of public healthcare in New Zealand, in charge.
Two: Understand the Role of Government
Free Press believes the role of government is a critical concept for all policy. Rather than running isolation and quarantine, and doing it badly, the Government should have been setting and upholding standards, such as testing the most exposed staff regularly. In Taiwan you can isolate at an Airbnb, but they send you home with a mobile tracking device and if you break isolation they WILL find you.
Three: Understand the Concept of Risk and Manage It
We treat arrivals from every country the same, and that is nuts. We treat arrivals of every type the same, and that is nuts. We should have very different approaches for a deported gang member on the one hand and a rail tunnel engineer coming to work on the City Rail Link on the other. Currently, we treat them both the same and that’s nuts.
Four: Augment the Public Health Response with Technology
Free Press does not know if Sam Morgan’s Covid-card is the answer. We do know it’s shameful we just lost $1 billion because the Government was not prepared to spend $100 million giving it a go. Similar arguments can be made of Datamine’s ëlarm smart watch app that is being bought in large numbers by overseas health providers.
Five: Use the Time For Reflection, Not Bragging
The Taiwanese are not better or smarter people than us. They had SARS to shock them out of complacency. Since then, their systems have been well road-tested over bird flu, swine flu, and dengue fever outbreaks. Rather than using our 102 days of freedom to naval gaze, we should have been building better systems.
We Can Win
The election is now well and truly open. The election backdrop is that it’s delayed due to the Government’s failure. ACT’s point of difference is we’re seeking a positive way forward. That’s what the wellbeing approach, applied to the Government’s response and finally made useful, is all about. If you’d like to help ACT win and bring more critical thinking to Parliament, please help us below.
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