Let’s be positive. Despite everything going on around us at the moment, we’ve had a couple of bright lights. And we need to give credit where it’s due.
You see, this week we finally took a couple of steps forward in the fight to get our economy, and the businesses it depends on, back on track.
Firstly, the New Zealand Herald and other NZME-owned media launched ‘The 90% Project’, its campaign to see 90 per cent of New Zealanders vaccinated against the disease by Christmas.
As many people have been saying for some time now, business people would like to see a plan of how the Government intends to lead the country out of the crisis and back to economic freedom. Once we see a plan, we, in turn, can start to make our own plans. In the meantime, decisions around investing, recruitment and strategy continue to be short term and reactionary.
One of the critical ingredients of a good plan is to have some targets. The first target we need to understand is what level of vaccination can enable us to get back to some sort of normality. It’s a shame that the leadership to set a target had to come from a media organisation rather than the Government. But a target is a target. It’s the start of a plan. The Government appear to be belatedly behind it. So let’s get on with it.
According to this week’s NZ Herald graphic, about 40 per cent of the eligible population of 4.21 million people is fully vaccinated so far. And we also have 35 per cent partially vaccinated with one dose.
That means we have 1.4 million people needing a second dose and 640,000 people needing two doses to get to 90 per cent. At the current rate of 300,000 doses per week, we can complete that by the end of November.
Throw in a bit of slack to allow for declining numbers as we get closer to the target and we can absolutely get there by the time the Herald’s target date comes around at Christmas.
However, we won’t achieve that target by opening our district health board-provided centres and waiting for the people to come. We will need a big push to get those who are unvaccinated to take action. That means we have to make it easy and accessible for people to get the jab.
The vax buses are a good start. Take the vaccination to the people. So are the pop-up centres and the drive-throughs that make it easier. I’m seeing people get their shot outside their workplaces, in warehouses and in real estate auction rooms.
So it puzzles me that many of our GP clinics, those that in a normal year do most of the country’s vaccinations for the flu, measles, tetanus, polio and others, have not been authorised by their DHBs to do the Covid vaccinations.
One whisper in medical land is that the DHBs are holding the GP clinics back to ensure the $37.50 paid by the Government for every jab lands in the DHB’s bank account rather than the pocket of the local general practitioner. If that’s true, the DHBs should hang their heads in shame.
I would have thought that in a health crisis, as in war, you bring all of your resources to the table. And yet I know of doctors and GP clinics that have not been so authorised.
In one case, a chain of medical centres with 100,000 patients around the country are unable to provide their patients with the jab. And yet these are the very clinics that can proactively connect with their patients, and have capable staff to do so. Such resources are exactly what you need as you strive for a target like 90 per cent.
But despite the distractions, 90 per cent is a great target. So let’s go for it. Encourage every person to get the jab. The sooner we’re done, the sooner we’re one step closer to our own “freedom day”.
The second bright light of the week was Sir Ian Taylor’s excellent submission to the Government urging it to seek the support of the business community in grappling with the growing shambles that is our managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) system.
As we now know, the Government “relaunch” of the system is now a bigger debacle than what we had before and has only highlighted further just how big the problem is.
I find it ironic that we were unable to prevent an Isis bride with dubious connections to New Zealand from “returning home”, and yet we are denying genuine Kiwi citizens the ability to return to their own country. Something is fundamentally wrong.
And of course the problem is much bigger than the 30,000 people who want to come home. We also have a lot of people who need to travel, but cannot do so unless they can come back. Businesspeople, professional athletes, performers and entertainers, and Fifo (fly in fly out) workers all rely on markets away from home to earn taxable income which in turn supports their families and our tax base.
Sir Ian, who possesses one of our better business minds, is simply saying, “let us take responsibility for our own people”. Let our people travel for business and allow us to take responsibility for keeping them safe.
His team have been travelling to some of the world’s Covid hotspots over the past 18 months keeping his business going. Not one person has caught Covid. Why? Because they have established a set of protocols that enable them to keep their people safe. And they follow those protocols to the letter. In his case, it has allowed him to stay in business broadcasting sporting events to the world.
And there are plenty of other businesses that are at risk right now because they cannot travel internationally.
The ability to travel for the provision of exported goods and services, delivering technology solutions, pitching for new business opportunities and promoting NZ as a destination for tourism, agriculture and knowledge base is essential and urgent.
We need to be able to plan for “normalised” business travel in a way that is predictable and manageable. Fully vaccinated people with genuine travel requirements should be provided with vaccine passports to enable travel for business purposes and authorisation to quarantine at home when they return. Returning travellers would be required to be tested daily during their self-isolation. It’s not that complicated.
Sir Ian didn’t address the burgeoning numbers waiting “in the lobby”. Many of those Kiwis waiting overseas will be sufficiently responsible to quarantine properly at home if given the chance. A simple police check on applicants will give you a quick hint on who we can rely on to do the right thing.
However, if that’s too hard, we need to bring in other facilities. Come November most of the country’s university hostels will be sitting idle for up to three months. There are thousands of rooms right there in buildings with all the facilities required to live comfortably for two weeks. Then there are our boarding schools, which will be unoccupied for 10 weeks at least.
St Stephen’s College boarding school has been mothballed for years. What would it take to tidy it up and turn it into an MIQ centre at the end of the Southern motorway? Our military camps, such as those at Burnham, Woodbourne and Ōhakea, could be pressed into action.
We have an entire industry of travel agents who could co-ordinate such a plan. Flights and accommodation is what they do. And our military, under-utilised at the moment, could provide the logistics necessary to run it all. It will be a lot cheaper than the current charity we’re running for the hotel industry too.
Once we get our people home, we can continue to use those facilities to bring in the much-needed international workforce and student populations that keep our industry, education and government departments going.
Availability of talent is currently our biggest issue. We need to become a desirable employment destination again and we need to do it quickly before we lose the benefit of the employment brand we have built up in the international community over the past 30 years.
Opening the country back up to migrant workers in key industry groups across the entire employment spectrum – construction, medical, technology, farming, horticulture, marine industry and professional services, to name a few – will be a critical success factor in getting our businesses moving again.
We need to recognise that, whilst the Government want us to employ unemployed New Zealanders into vacant roles, the reality is that there are not many unemployed doctors, nurses, engineers or university lecturers waiting in the wings for a job offer. We need to acknowledge that, at 4 per cent, we have the fullest employment we are likely to achieve and incremental talent requirements are going to be met by internationals.
Just as it has for the past 50 years.
This article first appeared in the New Zealand Herald on Saturday 25 September 2021.