It has been a long and difficult year since the first nationwide lockdown to take Covid-19 out of the community and keep the deadly virus confined to managed isolation facilities.
The economic cost for many has been enormous, the social cost for others has been devastating, a few have lost family members but many have had only minor inconveniences. Overall, through hard work, outstanding leadership and a huge amount of luck we have, so far, avoided a major catastrophe the likes of which have shattered many other countries.
Our luck has however been pushed to the very limit many times by people who, through ignorance, arrogance and stupidity have ignored lockdown restrictions and isolation rules. and about 1000 people have been prosecuted so far.
It was only a matter of time before one or more of these lapses of attention to the rules resulted in the virus getting into the community again. When that happened in Auckland in early February the country’s biggest city of 1.6million people was put back into lockdown alert level three at massive cost to the local community.
In spite of almost a year of extensive publicity about safety measures and self-isolation it seems the two families of high school students overlooked some basic rules and the virus was out. Swift action seems to have the outbreak under control and it appears the breach of rules was more case of young people being careless rather than anything more sinister.
None-the-less important questions need to be asked about clearer instructions, if that is possible, tougher enforcement systems and sever penalties for deliberate breaches of lockdown and self-isolation rules.
The Government is understandably reluctant to take a more heavy-handed approach as there is a real danger that accidental breaches of the rules may not be self-reported for fear of reprisals and that would indeed lead to a catastrophe. The answer lies somewhere between a harsher approach and a reliance on voluntary compliance. Finding that balance will not be easy.
While we can perhaps make allowances for young people making unwise decisions, which is their very nature, the same cannot be said for adults who make deliberate decisions to ignore the accepted standards of conduct in times of national emergency. That is particularly so when, for purely selfish or personal gain reasons, they put the welfare of thousands of people at risk.
When the latest outbreak was discovered the Government had to move quickly to contain it and sending all of Auckland back to alert level three as soon as possible was the only sane option. The lockdown could not be imposed immediately as there had to be time for Aucklanders outside the city to get back home. On Saturday evening February 13 it was announced that alert level three would come into effect at 6am on Sunday. It was a tight time frame and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made a plea for everyone who could to act as if alert level three was already in place on Saturday evening. It was clearly intended as a one-way system to get people home, not an opportunity for people to leave Auckland but many did, potentially defeating the purpose of the lockdown.
Among them, was the self-styled Destiny Church bishop Brian Tamati and his wife Hannah who headed for Rotorua in the dead of night where they held a church service. They reportedly admitted they had left Auckland to “avoid the lockdown.”. This was in spite of the plea to stay home and the oft repeated rule to “take your bubble with you” when moving about during a lockdown.
It was not the first time Tamati has come close to undermining the Government’s Covid-19 response. Last year, at the beginning of the pandemic in New Zealand he told his followers that some born-again Christians could have special protection from the virus. He said Satan had control of atmospheres unless people were born-again, Jesus-loving, bible-believing, Holy Ghost-filled, tithe-paying (a tenth of personal income) believers.
The fund-raising theme was again apparent in the Rotorua gathering where followers were encouraged to give more than the tithe to the church with promises of blessings including new cars.
Tamati’s followers said, in difficult times, people needed to be able to turn to faith, otherwise all they are left with is hopelessness. Arrant humbug! In these difficult times people need to follow expert advice to keep themselves and those around them safe. They can go to church later when it is safe to do so.
In normal times we are usually tolerant of bizarre religions, self-proclaimed prophets and the amusing characters who make up the colourful mosaic of our free and peaceful society. These however are not normal times and we need more effective restraints and penalties for the fools who, for whatever reason, deliberately put the lives and wellbeing of vulnerable people at risk.