Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Safe entry matters

Last night's chat with Bryan Crump on Radio NZ's Nights programme went through why getting safe entry at the border matters, and how we might think about it.

The government seems to have everything backwards currently. It results in horrible inequities and the usual amounts of muppetry because they're starting at the thing from the wrong end.

Right now, if you want to enter New Zealand and you're not a returning resident or citizen, you have to convince the Minister that you're important enough to be let in. That kind of regime was hard to avoid during the worst part of lockdown because you also needed exemptions from piles of other mobility restrictions if you were coming in as an essential worker to fix Wellington's sewer pipes. But it's got things the wrong way around now that lockdown is over. Instead, the principle should be that if you can enter safely, you're allowed in - with no signoff from the Minister unless that were somehow already required for whatever visa you'd be coming in on.

Starting from the economic necessity of getting particular people in has the government picking winners - it's the aristocracy of pull all over again. James Cameron has pull; some poor guy whose pregnant wife is here in New Zealand while he's in Australia doesn't. Because being allowed in is a function of their having the Seal Of Approval, safety gets less consideration than it should. Tom Hunt's story from yesterday of quarantine-bound Avatar film crews mingling in hotel reception with regular guests - that kind of muppetry absolutely cannot be allowed to happen. And maybe it didn't - the story relied on a non-quarantined guest's reckon that the crowd she went through at reception was that film crew. But it is the kind of thing that's more likely to happen if the guiding principle is "Movies are important and Avatar Sequels about that main Avatar and the other Avatar - that's what matters and it matters so much that we'll pay them tons of money to make those movies here"

You need to flip it.

If people can come in safely, they should be allowed in. 

If someone is coming in from Taiwan, and they haven't had any travel anywhere else, and they're on a direct flight that doesn't stop anywhere or come otherwise from anywhere that's risky, that person is safe. Taiwan is cleaner than we are. If AirNZ wanted to run direct flights to Taipei, picking up only people who are Taiwan residents without other travel and bringing them back here - we should basically be treating that as a domestic flight other than needing folks to go through customs. 

If someone is coming in from the US or UK, they should have to show the gate agent abroad that they have a booking at a quarantine facility. When they get here, they shouldn't mix with anyone in the airport or elsewhere - direct shuttle to quarantine. Test on entry. Test on exit. Monitored constantly in between on pain of deportation for breach of quarantine. Register all contact details for a third follow-up test a week after quarantine if folks think it's needed for the tiny proportion of cases that take longer than two weeks' incubation. Run the whole thing on a user-pays basis: additional passenger charges at airport to cover the costs the airports face in dealing with inbound arrivals from risky places; quarantine provided by private providers who'd compete with each other and charge prices commensurate with the experience provided. 

All government would there be needing to do is sign off on the adequacy of any quarantine provider's facilities and processes. That's it. No determining whether someone is sufficiently worthy, no winner-picking, no aristocracy of pull. What does that do? Instead of government deciding it only has X quarantine places available and has to ration them out to the Most Worthy Filmmakers, demand for coming here would drive quarantine supply. If there were more people wanting quarantine spaces than there were spaces available, prices would bid up. The bidding up of prices would encourage other hotels and the like to shift into being quarantine facilities and to get their spots signed-off. 

Anyway, enjoy my chat with Bryan about it. Billions of dollars ride on getting this right. 

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