Circuit-breaker lockdown needed (but not the one you're thinking of)

Roger Partridge
Insights Newsletter
5 November, 2021

Earlier this week, epidemiologist and media personality Professor Michael Baker was reported saying, "It's hard to imagine any justification for lowering the alert level in Auckland."

In case readers in Auckland think they have misread that, Baker didn't say, "It's a tight call, but on balance… ." The Professor said it's "hard to imagine any justification."

Forget the hospitality businesses going to the wall. Or the hairdressers, beauticians and gym-owners defaulting on their mortgages.

And the trifling matter of those with missed medical appointments and mere "elective" surgeries – including at least 133 women who the Breast Cancer Foundation estimates don’t know they have breast cancer because of missed mamograms.

Forget also that when he uttered those words from his ivory tower in Wellington, 80.3 per cent of Aucklanders across three District Health Boards were fully vaccinated. And that 91.2 per cent had received their first dose.

Or that even with record case numbers last weekend, hospitalisations from Covid-19 stood at just 53.

And the reports of rising levels of depression across the region, relationship breakups from households under strain from months in lockdown, and the long-term harm of students missing school.

Not even the growing signs of civil disobedience seem to have registered with New Zealand’s illustrious epidemiologist. He must have missed the 5,000 protestors marching on Saturday. Who knows how many thousands might join the next protest? And this from compliant, non-confrontational Kiwis.

Yet, according to Baker’s pronouncement on Monday, none of this counted. What mattered was that Delta's R was still greater than one. This means Auckland's case numbers are still rising.

But so too are vaccination rates. From a slow start, New Zealand’s vaccination levels will have soon surged into the top quartile in the OECD league table. Auckland is already there.

The rest of the world has realised it must learn to live with Covid-19. Aucklanders must be allowed to do so too.

Fortunately, Cabinet's decision on Monday signalled a slight (but delayed) easing of Auckland's restrictions.

And Baker’s response? Predictably, he promptly changed tune. The step down in restrictions would “probably be OK,” he said.

In their twelfth week of lockdown, Aucklanders could be forgiven for rolling their eyes.

Perhaps, then, we do need a circuit-breaker lockdown. But just for the epidemiologists and modellers. Or, at the very least, can we occasionally put them on mute?

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