A busy week in Covid politics
It was a hurly-burly start to the week for new National leader Todd Muller, with Paula Bennett’s surprise (to him) announcement she was leaving politics on the same day Judith Collins released her book criticising the John Key and Bill English leadership duo that the party has kept a halo around. His call for the Government to set out criteria for when and how the border can be reopened was quickly turned by his opponents into a reckless desire to let down the drawbridge and the consequences be damned.
Yesterday National’s repeated calls for Health Minister David Clark to go were answered, although that might be an own goal as it would have benefited much more electorally from him continuing in the role and the public’s disdain.
Clark’s announcement, delivered at short notice, also relegated the newsworthiness of Muller’s elevation of that other major political scalp of these Covid times, his predecessor Simon Bridges, to the shadow Foreign Affairs role he wanted.
The news cycle then quickly turned negative again thanks to the dog-whistling of his Clutha Southland MP Hamish Walker. In response to consideration of Dunedin and Queenstown as destinations for managed isolation, Walker claimed 11,000 people from India, Pakistan and Korea could end up in the region (with the latter no coronavirus hotspot, unlike a much larger source of returnees the United States).
Fast forward another day and we have former prime minister Helen Clark, former chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman and ex-Air NZ CEO Rob Fyfe urging the Government to consider reopening the border, with much better quarantine, testing and tracing systems in place that could cope with higher volumes of arrivals — as an extended delay in reopening would cause too much damage to the country’s economy and wellbeing. They also called for the Government to abandon its strategy of totally eliminating this coronavirus, as it was “unrealistic”.
Speaking on RNZ this morning, Sir Peter said planning for the country’s future had become bogged down in an unhelpful shift to New Zealand’s goals after going into lockdown — from “flattening the curve” of infections at any one time, to complete elimination. Hoping for a vaccine solution was just that as it was still a long way away, and there was no guarantee of complete coverage or effectiveness.
This influential trio have done us all a favour in putting these issues firmly on the national agenda, in a way that Muller tried but was unable to achieve in a busy week in politics.