Getting ourselves through

Dr Eric Crampton
Insights Newsletter
25 February, 2022

The coming weeks of Covid are going to be very grim.

Kiwis became far too accustomed to waiting for Government guidance rather than weighing risks ourselves.

Universities abroad pioneered innovative ways of mitigating Covid risks on campus. Our universities generally looked to Ministry advice rather than proven overseas examples.

Any time businesses tried to take a leading role in protecting their staff, our government harangued or punished them for their efforts.

And too often people asked not what is safe, but what is required.

The country has learned an awful lot of helplessness since March 2020.

With the move to Phase Three, that must change. The rules have largely loosened, and we will all need to think for ourselves.

Asymptomatic staff will spread Covid to co-workers. Getting reliable tests will not be simple. Regardless of mandates, employers need to weigh up whether to require masks in offices. A lot of staff may wind up sick at home at the same time. Rostering staff to work from home could help.

Parents will have to decide when it is safe enough to send kids to activities. The decision will not just be about Covid-risk. A rugby injury can be far more consequential if emergency departments are swamped.

People will have to decide for themselves whether it is safe to go out. Venue owners will have to figure out whether to improve ventilation and air filtration to attract more risk-averse patrons, or whether to aim for a younger clientele.

Better information would help.

The public Covid testing system has fallen apart, in exactly the way that we predicted, because of the government’s failed approach to saliva-based PCR testing. Rako Science’s private surveillance testing suggested that about 3% of the country may have been infected as of Wednesday. Regional wastewater testing data will be about the only way of tracking how risky different places are, but those measures are not yet available.

Ambulance services, emergency departments, and hospitals will be face impossible challenges. Knowing just how bad things are will matter. Ambulance call-out times and emergency department wait times for cases of different severity would be good to know. Is the local hospital at 95% of usual capacity or 140%? Is an ambulance 10 minutes away, or hours behind?

Ministries and DHBs may be tempted to hold back this kind of data until they’ve built attractive websites. Waiting would be a serious mistake. Quickly releasing data in an open format would let the country’s techies build the dashboards that are relevant to their communities.

For two years, Kiwis haven’t had to think much about these sorts of things. Now, we all must. A bit of better data could help us weigh up the risks.

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