Covid, the Border, MIQ, Omicron and Freedom

Recently, I have been speaking with family and friends about the pros and cons of not being able to travel to Australia to see family, and the need to keep the border closed to keep out Omicron.

Now that Omicron is here and the government has moved all New Zealand to the red traffic light setting, this has brought this debate into sharp focus.

The issue is a two-edge sword. On the one hand, for emotional reasons, it has been a complex issue whether to visit family in Australia. Then on the other hand, how important is it to protect the country from Omicron? This now has an overarching problem of New Zealanders being stuck in Australia due to the government constantly changing the rules and airlines not scheduling flights to New Zealand. Yet, now Omicron is here, why can’t fully vaccinated New Zealanders from Australia be allowed back to self-isolate? This just does not make sense.

Firstly, I have not been able to, or not wanted to go to Australia to see my son and grandchildren for the last 2 years because of the government repeatedly changing the rules. Nor was I able to attend a funeral in Australia when a good friend’s wife died of cancer. I simply do not trust the government to play fair. Initially, I could not travel because of the hard lockdown in 2020. That was understandable. Then the government reluctantly re-opened to Australia. I was very weary in how the government would handle this policy and my suspicions were correct as the government suddenly changed the rules, and people got stuck in Australia or became extremely stressed in being able to get back on red flights. The government changed things again over the Christmas period regarding self-isolation, and now thousands of New Zealanders are stuck in Australia because they cannot isolate at home or go into MIQ because there is no allocation until April and besides, there are no flights to accommodate them.

Secondly, my daughter is married to an Australian whose father has cancer and is not well. Not only do they have the same problem as I do, but there is also the strong possibility that her husband may not even be able to return to New Zealand. Their problem is far more emotional and complex than mine. I would just like to see my son and grandchildren. They want to see a father who is not well and has cancer.

New Zealand must be one of the only countries in the world that currently denies its citizens to travel freely, or to come home because of the fear of Covid, and now Omicron.  I spoke with a friend to weigh up the issues of not being able to travel to Australia and the need to keep Omicron out. On one level, my daughter and I have an emotional need to see family and friends for the reasons I have stated above, but how do we weigh that up against the need to keep Omicron out of New Zealand? Currently, I am very happy being able to do the things I do without the worry of potentially getting Omicron. I can still play sport, shop, and socialise in my normal way (albeit wearing a face mask, but now with the restrictions of only having up to 100 vaccinated people allowed into a pub, so booking a table before you go becomes imperative). Now that Omicron has arrived in the community, the government has taken the harsh step of moving New Zealand to red. The point is, what is more important to me, seeing family in Australia or continuing to live a “normal” life, as illusionary as that may be?

We all know that New Zealand remains ill prepared for a large outbreak of Omicron in terms of ICU capacity and staffing, and a serious lack of Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs), let alone certain parts of the community with low vaccination rates. Further, while booster shots are now available, the supply remains uncertain. My doctor will not have booster shots available until February (the same is for my brother in the Coromandel). The other day, I went to a chemist in Lambton Quay for a booster shot, but they had run out by 10:30am. I am not sure whether that was a fault of the chemist or the government. I have also read of people queuing for two hours around Wellington. I drove to Karori to the vaccination centre for a booster shot, but it was closed till 10th January. Hello! Covid does not go on holiday! Yet, at the time the government told us booster shots are freely available. I got my booster a few days later.

We are living in a temporary bubble that allows us to live relatively freely, but with strings attached. Those strings are that now Omicron has arrived in the community, we have moved to red in the traffic light system, which is a semi-lockdown environment. While I like my freedom to move around New Zealand, that may well not last if the Omicron outbreak is uncontrolled. Neither can I, or my family, travel to Australia because of government policy. We could go to Australia if we want to, but we just might not be able to come back!

This conundrum now impacts on the airlines and New Zealand is slowly being shut off from the world. It is becoming increasingly uneconomical for airlines to fly to New Zealand. Slowly, but surely, we are being shut off from the world because of government policy and its fear of what Covid might do to our health system. Much of this must be due to government inaction to build a robust health system, while forging ahead with ideological changes to the health system in a time of a pandemic.

Peter Dunne has written a good article on this very point and you can read his piece here:

But I digress. Thus, I am conflicted, for on the one hand, I am pleased Omicron was kept at bay until now, thus allowing me to live freely and without fear of catching it (as it explodes across the world). Then on the other hand, I feel trapped; unable to travel overseas to see friends and family. Do I have freedom at all? Has our government made us so fearful of Covid because of its own failings that we accept this lack of freedom? As someone said to me, Omicron will inevitably arrive here (and now has), so let’s just let it in, get it, so we can move on with our lives and stop living in this animated state of fear and lack of real freedom. I neither agree nor disagree with this point of view. I just know the world has gone a little weird and mad.

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