COVID-19 | Will we be Left to Sink or Swim?

A third Covid wave is currently sweeping the country, although you wouldn’t really know it by looking at mainstream media.

While the weekly announcement from the Government about current cases still happens every Monday, it’s no longer housed on the front pages, it takes scrolling and a search bar, and yet case numbers are on the rise.

In fact, case numbers are higher now than they were this time last year when we still using the Alert Level system.

The country didn’t move into the Traffic Light Protection Framework until December 2, 2021, when Northland, Auckland, Taupo, Rotorua Lakes, Kawerau, Whakatane, Ōpōtiki, Gisborne, Wairoa, Rangitikei, Whanganui, and Ruapehu districts moved to Red while the rest of the North Island, and the South Island, moved to Orange.

Under these traffic lights, Kiwis had to wear a face mask in most indoor locations and on public transport, venues still had capacity limits and distancing requirements and we were all advised (constantly – I mean, you couldn’t watch anything on Youtube without an unskippable Covid ad popping up first) to keep physically distanced wherever possible.

That was November/December 2021. One year on and the case numbers have increased, but it feels as though we’ve been left to fend for ourselves.

Otago University epidemiologist professor Michael Baker has noted that there is a ‘swarm of variants’ sweeping through society with a moving average of about 3500 cases reported every day. This time last year there was approximately 200 per day.

The problem is that this uptick in cases comes at a time when the psychology of society has shifted markedly. The case numbers – and even death statistics – simply don’t have the effect that they once had. It also comes at a time when the Government has rolled back many of the mandates that previously stemmed the flow of Covid through the community.

Without Government-led protections, some regions are taking it upon themselves to protect their community. Manawatū District Council has reintroduced Covid-19 response measures amid rising case numbers among staff and what epidemiologists are calling the country’s third wave.

Social distancing, twice weekly rapid antigen testing for staff, limits of how many people can be inside meeting rooms and encouraged mask-wearing are among the measures the council is taking to limit the spread of Covid.

While Baker welcomed the council’s measures, he has expressed on numerous occasions that firmer guidelines needed to be in place for organisations to follow to reduce transmission.

“Rather than everyone making up their own rules on this, I think it’s much better if there’s really clear guidance by experts at our health agencies that says ‘this is the recommended approach at each level of risk for how to keep people safe’, and I think we could be much stronger on that.”

Baker said the tools to reduce the spread of Covid were readily available, but a nationwide standard did not exist to help people and employers understand what measures should be in place.

No one wants to go back to the days of lockdown, least of all local businesses who are still struggling to get back on track after the last three years.

This is not fearmongering; it’s looking at the facts. We’re heading into a recession and there won’t be any more government hand-outs like there was in 2020 and 2021, they can’t afford it.

Considering we’re fully aware of the consequences that come from an infected workforce, and that we KNOW that measures such as mandatory face masks on public transport help stop the spread, the Government must step up now with some real guidance so that 2023 doesn’t become '2020 The Sequel'.