Prime Minister changes stance on public dobbing

Jo Moir

Jo Moir

Political Editor, Newsroom
Wellington, March 2, 2021


Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield should get Covid messaging back on track
(Newsroom Photo by Sam Sachdeva)

As the government battles Covid complacency and non-compliance, the Prime Minister has given the team of five million permission to self-police the rule-breakers.

The complete change of tune from the top is just one of many mixed messages in recent days.

Two things have been hammered into New Zealanders over the last year like nothing else – be kind and stick together.

Cracks in Auckland

But in just 48 hours, cracks have been appearing in Team Aotearoa after a couple of people decided to break multiple rules and Auckland was thrust into lockdown for another seven days.

“Those individuals are facing the full judgment of the nation,’’ Ms Ardern said on March 1.

In an impressive display of washing one’s hands of responsibility, the government has blamed these rule breakers for the shift to Level 3.

That is despite a lack of enforcement and sanctions for non-compliance, no compulsory Covid scanning, questions around check-ups on potential cases, and insufficient financial support for those staying home while isolating being very real contributors.

Blatant breaches

It is true that some of the cases tied up in the Valentine’s Day cluster blatantly ignored Level 3 rules, like the two mothers who went for a walk during lockdown causing further infection; but there have been signs the high-trust model has been waning and little has been done to protect against it.

So, Ms Ardern has taken non-compliance into her own hands and given the Prime Ministerial seal of approval to give family and friends a reprimand if they are breaking the rules.

It is a far cry from when masks were made mandatory at Level 2 during the August 2020 cluster, and Ms Ardern resisted giving responsibility to bus drivers to police it because of the potential backlash.

Not healthy advice

Now it is genuinely encouraged to tell people to put a mask on or to share a spare one.

Add to that the confusion over varying alert levels in different parts of the country and when one does or does not take their bubble with them.

One health expert and microbiologist used social media to tell people to take their bubble with them if they had left Auckland since the lockdown was announced, which is not official health advice at all.

In fact, if someone who normally resides in Wellington was in Auckland at the weekend they are expected to make their way home and operate under Wellington’s Level 2 rules. But this raises questions as to whether there is any consistency at all around bubbles and alert levels.

Long queues at borders

On Sunday, February 28, 2021, Aucklanders leaving weekend destinations like the Coromandel and Taupo to return to their homes for lockdown waited in checkpoint lines for up to seven hours with no food, water or toilet facilities.

It makes little sense as to how an Aucklander who was not in the Auckland region when an outbreak occurred is more of a risk than a Wellingtonian who was in Auckland during the outbreak but can freely return home and live a Level 2 life.

Confusion over waiting

Another confusion point has been whether to isolate while waiting for a test result.

Dr Bloomfield conceded that the advice had changed over time, but it is unclear exactly how many of the recent casual plus contacts – like the Papatoetoe students and their family members – were told to isolate until they got their test result and how many thought it was acceptable to return to work if they had no symptoms.

Covid-19 is constantly evolving and it is expected that rules and restrictions will tighten with the new and more transmissible strain now in New Zealand.

But much of the murkiness of late does not seem to be related to that at all.

Indecision and muddled messages are seeping into what has, for the most part, been an effective response.

Yes, there have been border breaches and lockdowns but all have been contained relatively quickly, and New Zealand has enjoyed so many freedoms in the last year that most other countries have not.

Those at the top leading the Covid response have remained unchanged, making it more difficult to grasp why so many gaps in the system are suddenly emerging.

This week is the opportunity to get the train back on the tracks – but giving neighbours a green light to call each other out isn’t the answer.

Jo Moir is Political Editor at Newsroom. The above story has been published under a Special Agreement with Newsroom.

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