I am over lockdowns and COVID19 but we need a plan

I won’t lie this current lockdown in Auckland has been tough for the more than million people that call this city home. To be even franker with you this whole pandemic has been tough with people falling ill, people passing away, the impacts those two things alone have on a family let alone the social, economic, and environmental challenges that have now all become part of the daily norm.

This pandemic has very much forced us to change the way we live, work, and play but has it pushed us to the point where actually, it’s time to make decisions about our future. Let’s face it as a nation and as a planet we have thrown literally everything at this virus and yet it keeps coming back with new variants and harder stings in the tail. As of the 22nd of September 2021, the death toll had reached 4,731, 365 deaths – men, women and children. This time twelve months ago it was 1,066,206 compared to when the first deaths were recorded of just 26 people on January 23rd 2020. As of last month 230,835,020, people have caught the virus – these numbers are staggering but staggering still is the fact we are nowhere near the end of this pandemic. As of today, only roughly a third of the total eligible population have been vaccinated which tells us we have a long way to go.

On current trend analysis we will be well into 2022 before a high enough global percentage has been reached that triggers the things such as “herd immunity”. As a fresh, and according to the Mayo Clinic, “Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. As a result, the whole community becomes protected — not just those who are immune.”

Coming up to two years since COVID19 Corona Virus first emerged the question comes down to where do we go from here? With that in mind we need to focus on the fact that this virus is evolving into other variants that are much more contagious such as Delta and now the arrival of Mu. According to Statista the economic impacts at first appeared to be minimal - Early estimates predicated that, should the virus become a global pandemic, most major economies will lose at least 2.9 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) over 2020. This forecast was already restated to a GDP loss of 4.5 percent. To put this number in perspective, global GDP was estimated at around 87.55 trillion U.S. dollars in 2019 – meaning that a 4.5 percent drop in economic growth results in almost 3.94 trillion U.S. dollars of lost economic output. In individual countries such as New Zealand the economic impacts have been managed effectively through the pulling of economic stimulus levers but they themselves can only go on for a period of time and as budgets allow. Then there is the disruption ot the overall global logistics and supply chain – in essence not enough products are moving across borders to sustain pre COVID19 levels which means our ability to trade productively is being whittled away.

Then comes the workforce. Another reality is that some of our major infrastructure systems are back ended by highly mobile workforces and skills – for example, the Philippines. The Philippines, as noted by Health Services Research, was the largest exporter of nurses worldwide. For many decades, the country has consistently supplied nurses to the United States and Saudi Arabia. In recent years, other markets have emerged and opened for nurses including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Ireland. From 2007, when that research was first published, to 2020 that continued to be the case with also supply of health workers coming in from places across Asia. General Practitioners and Specialists such as Radiologists from outside of a countries health system were also relied on as were teachers, Police Officers, Engineers and so on. That largely came to a halt as borders across the world began to close and first world countries were forced, for the first time, to face the fact that their domestic work force plans were just not up to scratch to meet demand.

In May this year the World Health Organisation announced that more than “115,000 of our colleagues and friends have given the ultimate sacrifice. These 115,000 deaths are the equivalent of a commercial airliner crashing with no survivors every day for the past 17 months since the pandemic started.”

Education Week announced as of Sept. 17, 2021, at least 1,116 active and retired K-12 educators and personnel have died of COVID-19. Of those, 361 were active teachers in the US alone. In Europe the numbers are estimated to be the same as they are in some countries across Asia. In May of 2021, in India – 500 Doctors had their lives claimed by the Pandemic as a result of Delta.

From a small business perspective, the failure rate has increased exponentially even with various Governments intervening – one estimate tells of more than a million SME’s already under with more expected by the end of 2021. This then carries additional burden in terms of indebtedness, bankruptcy and insolvency rates.

Finally, is the impact to various mental health systems and the risk of ever-increasing suicide rates amongst already under pressure population groups. Before the pandemic these at-risk groups, mostly Indigenous by ethnicity, already faced significant challenges from homelessness to housing affordability, low wage growth, higher rates of unemployment and longer-term unemployment, low savings rates and therefore only minimal access to cash reserves, sever health detriments across the primary health range and some of the largest suicide rates per head of population in the OECD.

By outlining all of this its now important to understand the facts of what we face not just as individual countries but also as a planet. COVID19 is not going away and the measures we are using to fight this pandemic must evolve. This now must include our economic and societal response as we being to reengineer the way in which we live, work and play.

This must include a measured response in terms of opening the borders to domestic and international trade and travel in a way that will not see nation states further put at economic risk while also tempering that opening with structured and available health responses. That means ensuring our health infrastructure and workforce is resourced and invested in to do the job we are asking. That also means a workforce development plan that covers primary, secondary, tertiary and ancillary health services.

Our education system needs to be rebuilt and all of those young people and children that would have had their learning disrupted need to be given the chance to get their learning back on track – but we also need to address another elephant in the room – and that is the need for education system to evolve. What has certainly emerged is the vulnerability that still exists because of the digital divide and those who are able to connect to online learning because their parents can afford both the device and the internet connection and those who, quite frankly cannot. Its that last group that we know all too well – those who live in low socio economic suburbs, low wages or dependent on welfare – just keeping their heads above water or even below the water line who’s focus is about putting food on plates and a roof over the head. In other words we need a plan to address poverty and moving faster to close the gaps of inequity.

This is a tough time for a lot of people for all walks of life – what we cannot do and should not do is make it tougher by not having a plan for the short, medium and longer term – a plan that will need to span the generations, postcodes, ethnicities and rich versus poor.

Matthew Tukaki, Chair of the National Maori Authority, Nga Ngaru