Thursday, February 03, 2022

Importing covid by the planeload

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has just announced plans to phase out MIQ from the end of the month, allowing vaccinated kiwis and eventually tourists to self-isolate instead. Which no doubt sounds good to business, but sitting here in a (currently) low-covid country, it sounds like a recipe to import covid by the planeload.

MIQ has been our primary defence against the virus. And it has been remarkably effective, stopping over 2000 cases. All of the lockdowns and consequent pain and suffering we've had over the past two years have been due to a handful of leaks. We have MIQ because we learned the hard way in the early stages of the pandemic that "self-isolation" doesn't work: lax rules and rule-breaking mean that 20% - 30% of cases leak. At current rates that's nearly 50 cases a day at the border, and ten leaks into the community which will need to be found, traced, and stamped out. If international air traffic goes up tenfold - a conservative assumption given its dropped by a factor of 40 since the pandemic began - then we're looking at nearly 500 cases a day in isolation, spawning a hundred new untracked community outbreaks every day. For context, the latter is about what we're getting now from community transmission, a number which is already causing "economic carnage" as people sensibly refuse to engage in unnecessary interactions.

The Omicron wave is probably coming, and if we're getting thousands cases a day of community transmission, then an extra hundred (plus all the people they infect) is probably neither here nor there. But if we want that case-load to go down and people to stop dying, we can't keep feeding new cases into the system. The government's plan is the opposite: to keep feeding the local pandemic, so that it never goes away. Which is quite a change from the 2020 approach of "keep everybody safe".

What about vaccines and boosters? Well, they'll help, but as we saw in the September wave, and as we're seeing now, they were always a second line of defence. MIQ was always our biggest shield, our thickest, least holey slice of cheese. And the government is just going to throw it away to satisfy a sociopathic business community that doesn't care about our lives. Having recognised that capitalism is incompatible with public health, they've decided to ditch the latter. And we'll pay the price for that decision in corpses.