WHEN BORIS JOHNSON announced England’s “Freedom Day”, I was scornful and dismissive. My reaction was much the same when New South Wales and Victoria announced “Freedom Days” of their own. This was irresponsible politics on steroids, I fumed. People are going to die. Which they did – and still are. Politically, however, “Freedom” appears to be a magic word. Utter it, and the ordinary voter’s crap detector instantly switches itself off.
The events of the past few days have, however, have made me realise that Johnson and his imitators weren’t being irresponsible, they were simply making a virtue of necessity. If you’re looking for an expression to mask the fact that you’ve run out of practical solutions to the problem of how to let people out of lockdown while the Delta variant of the Covid-19 virus is still raging around, then “Freedom Day” fits the bill nicely.
Because, of course, there is no safe way to let people out of lockdown while Covid-19 is raging through the community. But, as this Government is fast discovering, there is also no safe way to keep 1.6 million Aucklanders under house-arrest indefinitely.
Nor would there appear to be a practical means of requiring those same Aucklanders to show a valid Vaccine Passport, and evidence of a recent negative Covid test, before departing the city for their Christmas vacation. When the Labour Government finally comes to terms with this brutal reality, then, inevitably, it will start thinking like Boris Johnson.
Matters are certainly not being helped by the fact that the Vaccination Passports needed to make the Government’s new “Traffic Light” system work, are still at the development and testing stage. On balance, however, this is probably just as well. Because, if they had been ready to go, then the fundamental flaw in the system would have been revealed in real time, rather than presenting itself as a looming problem of massive proportions.
Let’s just walk through this problem soberly and logically.
Our first assumption must be that Auckland has reached its target of 90 percent fully vaccinated by the middle of November – and that not much of the rest of New Zealand has managed to do the same.
On the face of it, this can only mean that the border remains closed to Aucklanders wishing to spend Christmas out of the city. Fine. But how does the Government then propose to require Aucklanders to simply suck that fact up for the good of the country? After more than three months of lockdown, they might not be willing to take another one for the Team of Five Million. More likely they’ve reached the point of telling the Team of 3.4 Million to go fuck themselves.
Okaaay. So the Government, unwilling to see Auckland explode, tells the fully vaccinated and the Covid negative that they – and only they – can cross the Auckland border to visit friends and family and have a much-needed holiday. Hooray! Auckland yells, and then promptly crashes the system designed to let people download the Vaccination Passport app. As if that isn’t frustrating enough, they then discover that 30,000 to 40,000 people, all trying to get a Covid test at the same time, is a recipe for the most gigantic shemozzle.
Right about then, the nit-pickers start querying the practicalities of thousands of Aucklanders all trying to get out of the city at the same time when, on the way out, they are required to stop and have their Vaccination Passports and Covid test results sighted by the Police. How’s that going to work, exactly?
[Chris Hipkins had some ideas about this problem, which were actually pretty funny in a “just shoot me now” kind of way.]
Aucklanders consider this problem carefully, and decide that queues of cars, filled with increasingly fractious family members, and stretching for miles and miles, under a blazing summer sun, does not sound like a winning formula for peace and harmony.
Also having difficulty seeing much in the way of peace and harmony in Auckland’s immediate future are those who understand the racial dynamics of vaccination. A situation in which the fully vaccinated are free to leave Auckland, while the unvaccinated are ordered to remain within the city’s boundaries until the rest of the country reaches the magic 90 percent target, will, very quickly, be presented as a neo-colonialist outrage, which grants freedom of movement to the Pakeha, while keeping Māori locked-up in a Covid cage.
So ….. yeah. You reckon that will work?
Tricky situation, isn’t it? And one not overloaded with good, or even workable, solutions. So, what the hell are Jacinda and her government going to do?
Best guess? Pretty soon she and her colleagues are going to tell the rest of New Zealand that Auckland has done enough – and had enough. It’s reached its 90 percent double-jabbed target and is ready to go on holiday.
In the kindest possible way, Jacinda will inform the rest of New Zealand that it needs to rattle-its-dags on the vaccination front.
“You can’t keep 1.6 million people under house arrest indefinitely”, she will tell the rest of the Team of Five Million. “Auckland has carried the burden of this outbreak in every sense. Nine out of ten of them have done everything we’ve asked them to do – and more. We can’t expect the city to remain in a state-of-siege forever. This is Auckland we’re talking about – not Leningrad! It’s time to give Aucklanders their freedom.”
Right about then, is when the Prime Minister will lay it on the line.
“Those of you who have yet to be jabbed have three weeks to get yourselves vaccinated – twice. If you don’t, then you stand a pretty good chance of getting sick – very sick. Why? Because, New Zealand, in three weeks’ time Auckland is coming – ready or not.”
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 5 November 2021.