The Prime Minister had to work hard to win back public confidence in the Government after a dismal week of decision-making. On Monday Jacinda Ardern rose to the challenge, writes political editor Jo Moir.
Most New Zealanders play by the rules – the few who don’t get a lot of attention, but they’re thankfully a minority.
Last week the Government lost control of the narrative when it started the move away from elimination (in Auckland at least) by setting out a road map, which included loosening restrictions in the biggest city while Delta was still running wild.
The message from those following the rules in Auckland, who have been doing it tough for more than 50 days now, was ‘don’t give up’.
As long as health experts and modellers were convinced this Delta outbreak could be beaten, the overwhelming message from those locked down was to do what’s needed to win the battle.
So, as case numbers started to rise in the following days, fear well and truly crept in, and the messages of reassurance from Ardern started to ring hollow.
It was a week Ardern would rather forget, and one Dr Ashley Bloomfield would have been secretly thrilled to be on annual leave for.
Making things worse was the lack of detail and the vague contradicting responses to how the loosened restrictions would work. The debate over whether members of a visiting bubble could use the toilet tipped some over the edge.
It was just one example of what appeared to be policy on the hoof – the worst kind of policy when public buy-in is so crucial.
Then came news of an emergency press conference on Friday night to announce a Northland lockdown due to uncooperative rule breakers, one of whom was still on the loose.
It was a week Ardern would rather forget, and one Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield would have been secretly thrilled to be on annual leave for.
It set up Monday’s Cabinet meeting to be a blockbuster of decision-making. It had everything from potential alert level changes in Auckland, Waikato and Northland, to whether vaccination should be mandated for health workers and teachers.
Ardern, Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins and Bloomfield then fronted the first press conference in 72 hours.
It was notable that Bloomfield was the extra body, sat in the front row waiting to be called to the podium only if he was needed.
Ardern was clawing back control and making it clear Cabinet had made the decisions and she and Hipkins were across the details.
Both passed the test, leaving few information gaps, and plugging holes with clear and concise answers.
Waikato and Northland have a path back to level 2 on Thursday night provided they keep up high testing and abide by the lockdown rules.
Auckland stays in the same Level 3/Step 1 phase, with another review in a week’s time.
Schools in Auckland won’t open on Monday – something Ardern had warned could be the case if the virus was still lurking and vaccination wasn’t yet a safety net.
Mandatory vaccination is on the way for health workers and teaching staff, including parents who do voluntary work at schools.
And both health officials and police had been given the green light to do whatever needed to find a potential Covid positive case hunkering down out of sight. She was subsequently found late on Monday night.
Where the Government might have problems is in the more remote and rural communities where vaccination isn’t climbing, and health workers and teachers are often in short supply.
Hipkins told Newsroom the Ministry of Education has “good monitoring systems in place’’ to make sure all teachers are fully vaccinated by January 1, to give schools time to find replacement staff.
By January 1 there’s only one month left to fill any gaps and some isolated communities struggle to get teachers at the best of times, let alone in a global pandemic when vaccination is mandatory.
The same goes for doctors and healthcare workers in regional New Zealand. The country has a shortage of these staff and it’s much harder to convince one to take a placement in the back blocks of nowhere than it is in a city.
This could leave some communities without much-needed health services. Bloomfield acknowledged the problem on Monday and said it would have to be dealt with on a “case-by-case basis’’.
It’s a potential problem the Government will be hoping it can avoid by beating the vaccination message into people before Christmas arrives.
Ironically, the lack of Covid-19 in some of the more isolated rural communities is precisely the reason why they’re not planning to get vaccinated. There’s little appreciation for what protection it would give them when their community is infected.
As elimination becomes more difficult and the virus spreads out of Auckland, as it already has, the more likely that remote parts of Taranaki and the East Coast are going to fall victim to Delta.
Sadly, that might be the push some of these parents, doctors and teachers need.