A Grand Threat To New Zealand During This Pandemic
As the media focus is explicitly on those thousands returning to New Zealand, it has largely ignored the reality of where the actual pandemic threat originates.
Stats NZ has recently noted approximately 21,124 people arrived between April and June. There are reasonable concerns how so many returnees can be managed and isolated. However, it is vital to understand that there will be many more Kiwis wishing to return, as both the global pandemic and a major global economic downturn continue to cause upheaval.
The 21,000 returnees are actually only a very small portion of the total number that intend to migrate back over the next 6 months.
Rightly the attention has been on their safe return and how we as a nation can manage such a mass migration amidst economic instability.
However, it appears one of the most obvious and looming threats, perhaps the grand threat to New Zealand’s health and economic stability has been largely ignored.
These thousands of returnees are getting on to planes in other countries, sitting among other passengers and traveling often without any pandemic safety measures.
They are traveling between stop overs in airports and using public transport in some countries that have nearly zero pandemic protocols. From there, these returnees board airplanes destined for New Zealand.
They implement no pandemic protocols. Instead these countries put every passenger on the airplane at risk of infection, and it should not be a surprise that numerous returnees have tested positive for COVID-19 once arriving in New Zealand.
Certainly, there are some countries with very strict pandemic protocols in place. There are some countries where masks are required, temperatures are checked for all who enter the airport, and who urge all passengers to declare any COVID-19 symptoms.
Unfortunately, several of the top nations where our arrivals are returning from do NOT perform any such checks.
I submit that the grand threat to any expansion of our travel bubbles, any opening of our borders, and any reasonable improvement in our economic pressures caused by COVID-19 must focus on the other countries and their pandemic protocols.
New Zealand would be best served if leadership placed additional effort around communicating and enabling pandemic protocols for returnees at the origin country.
Our leadership must take into account nations that choose not to use pandemic protocols, and identify the nations that have current substantive outbreaks. These two factors should influence the methods and protocols by which we allow returnees.
Otherwise, we may very well face an ongoing threat of community transmission and the requirement of continuous management of isolation facilities for the next 6 months or greater.
New Zealand leadership need to take a more proactive approach including establishing guidelines for our returnees to follow, even if the hosting country does not apply pandemic protocols.
Otherwise, the substantial expansion of COVID-19 in regions of the United States and Australia for instance, will have a constant impact on our own ability to manage and respond to the pandemic.
The real threat to New Zealand has never been its ability to respond and counter the pandemic internally. Kiwis are a remarkable, resilient and supportive people. Instead, the real threat remains the weak methodology and ineffectual pandemic protocols used by other nations.
Until specific countries take on a more effective approach for air travel from within their own borders, New Zealand leadership, regardless of whether they are government or opposition, had best take a cautious approach.
Otherwise, New Zealand will further open its borders and the results will mirror the systemic economic and health failures we see in many other countries.
Mark Rais is a writer for the technology and science industry. He volunteers as a senior editor for an on-line magazine, has published several books and written numerous articles on the economics, technology and society.