How will history remember our response to the pandemic?
OPINION: The Covid-19 has provided a stress test for companies. This required different and sometimes socially and economically uncomfortable measures. It tested relationships and trust. And he disturbed and damaged.
At first, a group of us in Koi Tū used data from Google Maps to see how daily activities changed before and after the lockdown in Aotearoa / New Zealand. We found the post-containment compliance level to be extremely high, one of the highest ever. Of course, compliance has gone up and down. But this activity data and even recent opinion polls show that we continue to trust our public health professionals and yes, the government.
This was evident when these new lockdown requirements were broken. Public reaction, whether it was a trip to Wanaka or a leak from MIQ facilities, was immediate and often harsh.
The importance of following the rules of our collective health has been socially reinforced with considerable enthusiasm. Unfortunately, there was also a fair amount of racism in some of the reactions online.
* Covid-19: Languish, burnout and stigma are all possible psychological impacts as Delta lingers
* Work more hours but produce less: New Zealand’s low productivity
* Here’s how New Zealand could be better without working harder
We have learned how good our public health professionals are. They shine in our living rooms and workplaces – and we listen. This is not universally true in the world.
The discovery that our health care system needs much more investment was perhaps not so encouraging. Those who work there have done a great job – they certainly deserve to be recognized and financially supported. We have been fortunate that hospitalization rates for the virus are low.
We have had confirmation that some communities, notably the Maori and Pasifikas, do not enjoy the same state of health or the same access to facilities as other New Zealanders. It needs attention. But we also learned that these same communities were extremely capable of caring for their own.
The Molinari Economic Institute looked at the economic impacts of adopting strict public health measures (what they call the Zero Covid approach). They note the strong GDP growth and profitability that result from such an approach. New Zealand is No. 1. Elsewhere, focusing on the market, self-interest, and the private sector has had very different health outcomes.
Some of us have come to see Auckland and Aucklanders in a different light. With a reliance on domestic tourism and with Auckland being our largest market for the click and collect economy, the level of disdain and hostility towards our largest city and its people has significantly diminished.
The people of Auckland were left for a while when the bubble with Australia opened – but the hot blurs were revived when that collapsed, only for Auckland to then enter its own lockdown.
We have learned how transnational we are. The New Zealand diaspora is the second largest in the OECD and the border closures have made life extremely difficult for the families and remote communities that now exist.
And we learned how dependent (too dependent?) We had become on immigrants. In the year to June 2020, we saw a historic net gain of over 79,000 migrants while over 300,000 temporary migrants were in the country when we entered the first lockdown.
We still hear how important these migrant workers are, but we also need to ask questions about the discouraged domestic worker and our ability to anticipate and train a local workforce. The Productivity Commission is responsible for finding answers to these important questions.
We have learned to work and consume online. Will our CBDs or our large office buildings become as busy as before? Good for those who have successfully rotated.
Swedish historian Sverker Sörlin argued that there is not one global pandemic but several, each shaped by a national logic that reflects a country’s history, politics and culture. Aotearoa / New Zealand has just written a new chapter in the history of this country, a chapter very different from most other countries. The pandemic has rewired parts of our society and our economy – and left us with ongoing challenges.
Paul Spoonley is a leading sociologist and professor at Massey University.