The week in politics: hostile fire and applause as the government changes course on Covid-19

To analyse: Prime Minister announces significant easing of Covid-19 restrictions but not everyone likes it, New Zealand offers non-lethal military aid to Ukraine and international analyst explains why it’s “highly symbolic “.

Clockwise from top left, Jacinda Ardern, Christopher Luxon, David Seymour and Golriz Ghahraman.
Photo: RNZ / Pool

Also, after nine years, Australia is accepting New Zealand’s offer to take in refugees from its offshore detention camps.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced greater freedom from Covid-19 restrictions, but not everyone was happy about it.

It had been two years to the day since she had ordered the first confinement and closed the borders.

“Although we succeeded, it was damn difficult,” she said. “We are not tired for nothing: sacrifices and hard work got us here today and now, with more tools and one of the most vaccinated populations in the world, we are able to keep moving forward. safely.”

Details of the changes are explained in the RNZ website article ‘What you need to know: Key changes to scanning, vaccine passes and mandates’.

Security measures are removed because there are so many Omicron loose that there is no point in guarding them.

Ardern put it this way: “To date we have had over 500,000 reported cases of Covid-19 and expert modellers say there have probably been 1.7 million actual infections.

“This figure, coupled with the fact that 95% of New Zealanders are fully vaccinated, means we now have a high level of herd immunity.”

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A positive rapid antigen test.
Photo: Unsplash / Long stem

The next important date is April 4, when the traffic light settings will be reviewed. Ardern said the country would be able to turn orange “at some point in the near future”, but not while hospitalization rates remain as high as they are now.

Opposition parties have often complained that the system is confusing, and Ardern gave his own simple explanation. “Red Gathering Limits, Orange Masks, and Green Guidance.”

These two years have been difficult and for Ardern the last few months have been the worst. Towering passes and vaccination warrants shattered his “team of five million” and a protest in parliament ended in a riot.

The PM was ‘trying to move on from a nasty six months’, said Herald political editor Claire Trevett. “We first had to live with money orders, vaccine passes and collection limits so we didn’t have to live with Covid-19. There’s not much point in living with them all together .”

Cost of living ‘scarier than Omicron’

Thing Political editor Luke Malpass said much of the government’s work over the past two years was coming to an end and the future would be different.

“Politics won’t literally be about ‘go hard and go early.’ It’s going to be about the normal day-to-day issues… the economic situation is now overtaking the virus,” he said.

“Inflation will show up in wallets every week. ASB’s forecast of $150 a week will be scarier for many voters than Omicron.”

Malpass was referring to ASB economist Mark Smith’s prediction that households would spend $150 more per week, on average, this year due to rising costs.

Smith said cost increases were growing and becoming more prevalent. Overall household spending is expected to increase by 7% this year, or $15 billion, Thing reported.

During his speech at the Beehive theatrette, Ardern used slides showing how cases were declining in Auckland and stabilizing in other parts of the North Island. The South Island is not there yet, but the trends were strong enough overall for it to make the call.

The sports sector celebrated the removal of outdoor gathering limits, the hospitality sector didn’t think doubling the limit to 200 in restaurants and bars went far enough as they still have to use social distancing, and vulnerable people expressed their fears of being more at risk.

Blues fans party

Crowds are back at Super Rugby matches.
Photo: photo port

Lots of reviews

The political reaction was summed up by RNZ this way: “National would have gone further in removing Covid-19 restrictions but backs the government. Greens fear for the most vulnerable and ACT fears for the economy.”

National leader Christopher Luxon said his party supported removing the restrictions but saw no point in keeping the traffic light system.

“It’s hard to understand why the traffic light system remains,” he said.

“Our view is that simple and clear instructions around masking, around maybe crowd limits and that sort of thing. We can deal with that with simpler sets of rules rather than a traffic light system confusing.”

Golriz Ghahraman of the Green Party, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and is immunocompromised, said mandates and passes were about inclusion.

“It meant we could leave the house, we could go to work, we could go to school, so it was about inclusion,” she said.

“And now we’re in a position where we have to decide if we want to get out into those spaces at quite a high risk, which seems like a rule-out.”

Law chief David Seymour, who has been more forceful than National to remove restrictions, predicted the economy would be in recession in the first two quarters of the year and called the government’s decisions an attempt to save face.

“Our economy is heading into recession and the Prime Minister continues to tinker,” he said.

“What we needed was a step change – it’s time to move on and let go of restrictions that don’t make sense. Instead, restrictions are spread across a political theater of the absurd.”

Michael Baker, the most cited epidemiologist throughout the pandemic, said the day before Ardern’s announcement that rolling back restrictions could cause a second wave of Omicron.

“Cases are rising in some parts of the country, hospitalizations are at an all-time high, it’s a bit early to risk adding fuel to the fire,” he said.

The day after the announcement, science commentator Siouxie Wiles said nine at noon she was immensely disappointed.

“There’s a huge emphasis on ‘it’s safe to do things’ but who is it safe for?” she says.

“Removing QR scanning and passports makes it less secure for some people. We’re now saying ‘it’s OK for most people’.”

More support for Ukraine is important – commentator

On Monday, Ardern and Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced aid to Ukraine – $5 million, bringing the total to $11 million, and non-lethal military equipment.

- Pool - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during the post-Cabinet press conference with Foreign Secretary Nanaia Mahuta, Houses of Parliament, Wellington.  07 March 2022. NZ Herald photograph by Mark Mitchell

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta at a press conference.
Photo: Pool / NZME

Chief of Defense Air Marshal Kevin Short was at the post-Cabinet press conference and said the equipment included 1,066 body armor plates, 473 helmets and 571 camouflage vests.

The equipment would have become surplus as the NZDF moved to lighter equipment, he said.

International analyst Geoffrey Miller, in an article written for the Democracy Project and published by RNZ, said it was highly symbolic and explained why.

Miller said there were several reasons for the decision, including public sentiment, the outpouring of global solidarity with Ukraine, the attitude of New Zealand’s “Five Eyes” partners and National’s appeal. to do more.

“But the EU’s perspective on New Zealand’s efforts is perhaps even more crucial,” he said.

“New Zealand is in the final stages of negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU, which will require the agreement of all 27 member states to sign.”

Miller said Nina Obermaier, the EU ambassador to New Zealand, told Parliament’s Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Select Committee last week that it was very important to know that the New Zealand was “on our side in this conflict and that is also why we welcomed New Zealand’s very clear and early condemnation of the Russian invasions”.

A member of the committee asked him how New Zealand’s support could speed up the signing of the free trade agreement.

The EU ambassador replied: “I’m sure the current situation is on everyone’s mind and it will certainly have an impact on how quickly we can conclude.”

Miller said in his article that it was important to stay in the EU’s good graces, but even more important was to do the right thing.

“Ukraine’s nightmare continues and it won’t be the last time Jacinda Ardern will be asked to do more,” he said.

The key proposition finally materializes

Nine years ago, then Prime Minister John Key told his Australian counterpart Julia Gillard that New Zealand was ready to accept refugees from Australia’s offshore detention camps.

The offer was pursued by his successors Bill English and Jacinda Ardern, and this week his acceptance was announced.

The agreement covers 150 refugees a year for three years.

These are people who arrived in Australia illegally by boat, and according to Australian policy they are not allowed to stay in the country. It holds them in camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea and on the Australian mainland.

New Zealand’s offer was not accepted as they feared they would become citizens and then be able to enter Australia through the back door.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said those who came to New Zealand would go through the same United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) process as other incoming refugees, meaning that they would be assessed and screened.

faafoi said Checkpoint the agreement was signed a month ago.

“The bottom line was that it had to go through the UNHCR process and Australia had to go through discussions with the UNHCR to see who might be eligible,” he said.

*Peter Wilson is a life member of the Parliament’s Press Gallery, 22 years as NZPA Political Editor and seven years as NZ Newswire’s Parliamentary Bureau Chief.

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