Thursday 17 December 2020

No room at the MIQ

Stephen Joyce canvasses the usual excuses for delays in getting normal travel arrangements with Australia

He finds them wanting, as I have as well.
The Prime Minister's reasons for further delay, as reported in the Herald yesterday, are ridiculously weak. There were basically three of them. Let's take them in turn.

The PM is reportedly concerned that Australia could have a looser definition of a Covid flare-up than New Zealand. It seems like there is an easy solution to this. New Zealand retains sovereign control over its borders and the Government could reinstate a quarantine requirement at any time. Having a bubble doesn't mean always agreeing with Australia's definition of risk.

The second problem is apparently that having fewer Australians in quarantine facilities would allow more people from other countries at greater risk to come into our quarantine facilities. This would increase the numbers of people in quarantine that could have Covid.

Let's think about that for a second. Are we really keeping people arriving from Australia in isolation, even though it's not necessary, in order to reduce the number of people from other countries in quarantine who could have Covid? Seriously?

An alternative view is that freeing up nearly half of the quarantine facilities currently taken up by travellers from Australia would allow faster processing of critical workers and Kiwis from elsewhere who are currently queuing on the other side of the border. Which would surely be a good thing.

The third problem identified is what happens to Kiwis already in Australia if we have to close the bubble again. Well, I'm thinking they would then have to use quarantine to come back. Which seems a no-brainer. And if this is an argument for not opening a bubble we will never open one.

That's pretty much it. The Prime Minister is suggesting that we need to postpone our end of a transtasman bubble till at least February to deal with these supposedly intractable issues, which a competent set of people could solve in roughly five minutes.

I think underlying some of this is a worry about political pressure if a pile of Kiwis wound up stranded in Oz if we had to re-impose border controls. So you'd have to have a very strong caveat emptor around airfares and warnings that people needed to be ready to hang around on the other side of the Tasman if controls were re-imposed. They can't just use quarantine to come back - there would be too many of them. 

But there seems no willingness to think through solutions. 

If the actual binding constraint on getting more people through MIQ is that even a perfect system can handle only so many positive cases because of constraints in the health system, then we need ways to make it less likely that infected people travel here. A starter for 10: put an MIQ facility on the West Coast of the US close to an underused airport that could handle AirNZ planes. If someone turns up positive, keep them from getting here in the first place. It can't be that hard. 

If that's the binding constraint. But there always seems to be some other underlying constraint such that solutions to whatever excuse has most recently been offered doesn't solve whatever the real constraint is. It's always jam-tomorrow when it comes to normal travel arrangements with places that do not have Covid. 

Meanwhile, the costs of closed borders and bureaucratic cruddy decision processes for allocating scarce MIQ spaces keep adding up. 

Here's an open letter from a veterinary recruiter who's been desperate to get vets in from overseas. There are long term skills shortages for vets. But they haven't made the cut for whoever at MBIE is the decider. They don't have the pull. Film crews and boat race people have the pull. And pull decides.

Prime Minister, I would like to invite you to join me in visiting a couple of veterinary hospitals so that you can hear first-hand what it’s like for the amazing, dedicated, hard working and totally stressed out professionals working on the front line.

I would like you to hear first-hand how they’re not sleeping at night. How they’re so totally stressed out that sometimes they can’t even form coherent sentences. How their spouses and families are concerned for their physical and mental health. Prime Minister, these professionals need a break.

Sorry, no room in MIQ.  

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