From midnight Sunday Auckland stepped back into uncertainty once again with a level three lockdown requiring everyone, except essential workers, to stay home.
The Prime Minister says Cabinet made the decision to be cautious given health officials don’t have a complete picture of the “potential source of the infection and spread, if any, beyond one household’’.
Genome sequencing and serology will help with that and is expected tomorrow morning.
In the meantime, Jacinda Ardern says the working assumption is that it could be one of the new “more transmissible strains of Covid that we need to act with a high degree of caution to’’.
There are three confirmed cases in South Auckland – a mother who works at a laundry facility connected with the airport, her daughter and the father.
What is known is that the mother, a border worker, was subject to a two-week testing rotation, and while she tested negative on January 18, she missed her next test. scheduled for February 1, as she was on annual leave.
This is the sort of slipping through the gaps that gives the Opposition and the public something to pounce on.
Ardern says her expectation is that people keep up their general rotation of testing, but lots of questions remain as to whether workers have been told to get tested while on leave and whether the responsibility lay with her or her employer.
National Party leader Judith Collins saw an opportunity and leapt on it, rightly pointing out the Roche/Simpson report released late last year had highlighted many shortcomings at the border.
Not helping things was how long it took for that report to be released – months of sitting on the minister’s desk before being made public – and little time over the Christmas period to start implementing changes.
But where Collins has gone too far is to say the border “should be rock-solid by now’’.
She went on to say, “The Government was warned. They no longer have any excuses for failure.”
A rock-solid border is a wonderful idea, but not a realistic one.
While it can sometimes seem a cop-out for Ardern and Doctor Ashley Bloomfield to default to saying the virus is “a tricky one’’ – there is some merit to it.
When Covid-19 can be spread by a lift button or a rubbish bin lid but people travelling in the same car as an infected person don’t contract the virus, it makes it difficult to truly understand the virus’ behaviour.
In turn, understanding under what circumstances an item, like laundry, might be contaminated and might not is equally difficult.
Collins raises these issues because the more lockdowns the country has the bigger the blow for businesses, employers, employees and all New Zealanders.
That voice used to be at the Cabinet table discouraging Ardern and Labour ministers from being too cautious – it was ministers from a party called New Zealand First.
National isn’t at the Cabinet table but there’s plenty of people who might look at the three-day level three lockdown in Auckland and say it’s over the top.
Collins knows exactly who she is playing to with her comments.
On the flip-side, Ardern is the leader of a majority Government and with the exception of advice from Bloomfield, what she says will pretty much always go.
No Prime Minister wants to get as far as New Zealand has – with tens of thousands attending music festivals in a Covid-free country – to then lose it all in the home straight through not being cautious enough.
Vaccinations are set to be rolled out to border workers from February 20 and Ardern says these latest cases won’t have any impact on that.
The vulnerabilities – both seen and unseen – at the border mean vaccinations are the only sure bet for keeping New Zealanders safe in the future.
Ardern and Bloomfield need to front up and answer questions as to why rotation testing failed.
Once that is sorted the border will be safer, but it will never be rock-solid.