The primary argument for lockdowns remains that our health systems could get overwhelmed. But maybe NZ should invest more into those health systems than locking down and costing the country billions of dollars, write University of Auckland academics Ananish Chaudhuri and Simon Thornley. The writers are also members of the Plan B group which has been critical of NZ’s Covid response over the past year. These views are their own.

OPINION: Here we go again; after spending enormous amounts on MIQ and sacrificing billions of dollars in lost GDP (with its consequent collateral damage in terms of lost livelihoods and deaths from other causes), we are back in lockdown.

The public spigot in terms of the wage subsidy has been turned on again. Talk of raising the Official Cash Rate has subsided and the money printing machines may start up too.

One look across the ditch should make it clear that whatever the answer is, it is not lockdown. People in some other nations have reacted with incredulity over this latest decision.

While there has been a sharp rise in positive tests and cases in Australia, the number of deaths still remains relatively low. Positive tests are not the same as cases of illness and cases are not the same as deaths. 

What remains the primary argument for lockdowns? The fact that our health systems could get overwhelmed.

But how long can this continue to be a viable response? Just as night follows day, the Delta variant will be followed by epsilon, zeta, eta, iota and so on.

How long before we get enough people vaccinated? What if those vaccines are not so effective against mutant strains as other countries like Israel, US and Iceland are finding out now?

What is the answer?

A large part of the problem here is a misunderstanding of the human psyche.

Our Prime Minister does not have enough faith in her own citizens to implore them to self-isolate.

And so, we turn to lockdowns in an attempt to flog a dead horse.

Of course, most of us do not go out and actively break the law. But we also fail to exercise the caution that we might otherwise do if only our leaders treated us with respect and appealed to our intrinsic motivations. Psychologists often call this “vicious compliance”.

We have spent an incredible amount of money elsewhere, yet how many new hospitals have we added? How many new wings? How many new ICUs? How many new beds?

The answer is almost certainly: zero; zero; zero and zero.

According to the Government’s own estimates, each day of lockdown costs $290 million. The lockdowns in 2020 resulted in a fall in our GDP equivalent to many billions of dollars.

Why? Could we not have shown some foresight and spent some of the public money in the interim to bolster the capacity of our public health system?

Here is a new idea. Don’t lock down. Take the money ear-marked for the wage subsidy and other such things and make it available for overtime for doctors and nurses. Ask them to stay prepared for a potential outbreak.

At most, only lock down those parts of the country where people have some risk of being exposed. This likely excludes all of the South Island and the majority of the North Island.

In the meantime, start doing something about increasing capacity in the public health system. And fix the immigration system in order to retain the doctors are nurses who are leaving the country. And let in the doctors and nurses waiting in the immigration queue.

Once and for all, realise that lockdowns are not and cannot be serious long-term solutions. While doing so, consult widely with a larger group of stakeholders rather than listening to the people whose answer to every Covid-related question is locking down. The only way to move forward in terms of finding a solution is to take the lockdown option off the table.

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