Kerre McIvor: Latest Covid 19 coronavirus outbreak reveals holes in Government’s strategy

OPINION

This latest Papatoetoe Covid cluster has highlighted just how fragile the contract is between the Government and the people.

When news that the Papatoetoe High School cluster had spread, Aucklanders braced themselves for another lockdown. After all, that’s what happens whenever there’s a community outbreak.

Those fears were realised last night when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that Auckland was back in level 3, and the rest of New Zealand in level 2, for the next seven days.

Despite the fact a person who had tested positive for Covid had been working at the busy Kmart store in Botany, an abundance of caution wasn’t shown, and Auckland was initially allowed to carry on with business as usual. It was only the people who’d shopped or worked at Kmart on two specific days who were asked to stay home and get tested.

It was the right decision – unless you happened to be one of the 1200 poor unfortunates who’d popped into Kmart over the weekend.

First there was the marathon required to get through to Healthline for advice. Many people have reported waits of more than eight hours, which is simply unacceptable.

Then there was the conflicting advice given to the callers.

And then there was the instruction to stay home for 14 days.

Geoff rang me on Thursday this week. He’d gone into Kmart to buy a couple of items of clothing, heard the news about the positive case and rang Healthline.

After the eight-hour wait, he was told he’d have to self-isolate for 14 days and get himself tested. He can’t work from home and the subsidy doesn’t begin to cover what he could have earned over the 14 days.

It’s fair to say Geoff did not feel like a valuable member of the team of five million. He feels p***ed off and he told me he’d be deleting his Covid scanner app and would not come forward again if he found himself in a location of interest.

Many texters and callers said much the same thing. They couldn’t afford to stay home for two weeks and that’s why they either didn’t scan in or would be deleting the scanner app.

That is very concerning. The Papatoetoe community cluster has widened precisely because people didn’t comply with the stay-at-home rule. People who are losing their incomes as a result of that were asking why the hell they should stay at home when the worker at Kmart didn’t.

And despite the answer being self-evident – because Covid will spread and more people will be affected – when it’s individuals being asked to make the sacrifice, instead of regions or the entire county, they’re less inclined to do so. They’ll have to stay at home as Auckland goes into another lockdown from today.

It might have helped if people were getting compensated to the level of their actual income while they were self-isolating. The Government subsidy of about $580 a week doesn’t cover most people’s costs.

Then the Government said there was the Covid-19 Short Term Absence Payment, a $350 one-off payment available for businesses, including self-employed people, to help pay their workers who cannot work from home while they wait for a test result.

Previously Covid Recovery Minister Chris Hipkins was almost snippy when he was asked if payments would be increased. “We are never going to be able to compensate everybody for every eventuality for every cost that may occur as a result of our Covid-19 response,” he said.

No, but compensating people for their lost wages seems reasonable. Especially when it’s the health department and its failings that have put people in this situation.

The family at the centre of the cluster were phoned by officials and didn’t respond. They didn’t get tested and they didn’t stay home. It was only after one of them was found to have Covid that officials went knocking on the door and that is far too late.

In a high-trust, low-enforcement environment, which we’ve been working under, people must comply or we have to change the way we do things. The “Be Kind” mantra needs to become a “Be Responsible or You’ll Suffer the Consequences” edict.

And people who were told to self-isolate because somebody hasn’t followed the rules need to be properly compensated for doing so.

This Government hasn’t been shy about giving out money left, right and centre from the time it took office.

It’s my money, and yours, that they’re giving out – and I have no problem at all with them compensating workers for lost wages, especially if these are people who are forced to stay home because the health department has failed to do its job.

Kerre McIvor Mornings, Newstalk ZB, 9am-noon, weekdays.

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