With the number of Auckland’s Covid cases increasing exponentially, there is every chance the Government will extend the city’s Alert Level 3 lockdown for several weeks.
How we got here and the lessons we can learn are questions for another day. For now, the Government must urgently rethink the extent of the restrictions imposed at Alert Level 3.
Auckland’s streets are already deathly quiet. The prospect of another month in lockdown threatens to keep them that way. After being flattened twice, who knows how long it will take for the country’s largest city to get back on its feet.
Fortunately, the Government has options to relax the chokehold over Auckland’s economic activity without compromising its eradication objectives. The Alert Level 3 rules that permit dairies to stay open, but not greengrocers, butchers or bakers are unnecessarily restrictive.
Back in April when the country was emerging from Alert Level 4, the Initiative outlined a risk-based approach to deciding which businesses can operate at Alert Level 3.
The Initiative submitted to both officials and the Minister of Finance that the Health and Safety at Work Act has the necessary framework to evaluate how all types of work can be carried out safely.
Relying on this principles-based approach would avoid the blunt, bureaucratic and hard-to-understand limitations of the “essential/non-essential” labelling applied during Alert Level 4.
Unfortunately, the Government chose not to follow this approach. When announcing the rules for Alert Level 3 the Prime Minister claimed the Government was abandoning the “essential services” approach for Alert Level 3 in favour of a "safety-based" methodology.
But by prohibiting shops other than supermarkets, dairies and garages to open, the new rules retained a good dose of Alert Level 4’s blunt approach. As the Initiative asked at the time, why is the local butcher, baker or clothes shop less safe than the local dairy?
A week ago, both the Prime Minister and the Director General of Health advised Kiwis that further outbreaks of Covid-19 are inevitable. Their timing in doing so was remarkably prescient.
Unfortunately, there are no signs they have applied their foresight to prepare a fit-for-purpose set of rules for any extended period of Alert Level 3 lockdown.
For the sake of firms and workers they must do better.