The Government needs to stop surprising us over coronavirus
Jacinda Ardern announces further travel restrictions - March 14
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces further travel restrictions amid the coronavirus Covid-19 outbreak.
OPINION: Managing a real crisis in government is not easy.
Crises involve rapidly-changing, hugely consequential events which are often impossible to control.
We have seen a few of these in the last twelve years, the GFC, the Christchurch earthquakes, and now Covid-19.
It can be hard for politicians to look beyond the daily news cycle at the best of times. When a crisis hits, it's doubly so.
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The pressure to react immediately to the latest news is immense. Australia has done this, America that, we need to respond. Taking time to think and apply a consistent approach can be seen as a luxury.
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And yet you have to. You need a clear plan and you need to provide consistent decisions in a straight-forward way so the public can have confidence. Lack of confidence is what leads to panic.
Pedestrians don masks walking down Auckland's Queen Street during the Covid-19 outbreak.
So far the world hasn't covered itself in glory on this virus. From the US President down it's been a story of inconsistency. A week ago he was describing it as no worse than the flu. Then suddenly he flips and takes the dramatic step of banning all travel from Europe into the US, sending the world into a tailspin.
In New Zealand we banned travel from the whole of China but not from Italy (an anomaly that will have more than raised the eyebrows of our largest trading partner). And then we flip wildly yesterday from one of the most relaxed travel regimes in the world to arguably the most draconian.
It's relatively easy to place fourteen day self-quarantine restrictions on Europe, or even America, but we are so integrated with Australia that the economic and social pain from stifling travel between us will be very severe. Why is that needed now when it wasn't even on the radar previously?
Former National finance minister, Steven Joyce.
The yo-yoing continues. Some big events are cancelled, some continue. Pasifika is definitely on and then a day later it's off. The 15 March Memorial continues until it doesn't. Goodness knows what the Government will decide about schools.
There is little doubt we need a much clearer strategy, and consistent communication. It is clear many more cases of Covid-19 are likely. Being in the Southern Hemisphere and heading into winter will surely shorten the odds.
Our response will need to be timed differently to the North. The government should stop surprising us and say what will happen in certain eventualities. In what circumstances will schools be closed, and re-opened again? Under what conditions will the travel restrictions change? And when exactly should people be tested?
A microscope image from the US National Institutes of Health shows the Novel Coronavirus. A sixth person has tested positive in New Zealand.
As I understand it the strategy is to slow down the rate of transmission to allow health systems to cope better and give time to come up with better treatments including, eventually, a vaccine.
Ministers need to tell us how they are appropriately managing the health risks while at the same time doing their best to keep the economy going and keep people in jobs; or we will end up with an unemployment crisis as well. The Australia travel restrictions won't help.
Stockmarkets have already swooned. To some degree that was due to happen. Shares around the world were over-priced by any historic measure and investors were acting as if nothing would ever upset them. I suspect that even once Covid-19 has passed, markets won't return to previous levels of exuberance.
Big service sectors like tourism, hospitality, and education are being severely curtailed, probably for some time. And there are questions over what will happen in the goods sectors as people hunker down.
MARK TANTRUM/GETTY IMAGES
Jacinda Ardern needs to lift her sights above the daily news cycle, Steven Joyce argues.
The government needs to zero in on what they can do to alleviate the worst impacts of this slowdown. They need to focus on supporting businesses to retain jobs and keep people in apprenticeship and traineeships, on the grounds that once people lose their job it's much harder to get employed again. There should be clear simple criteria for such support, and extra sick leave available. And frankly all of this should have been announced by now.
Which brings me to the planned hike in the minimum wage on April 1. It should be cancelled. The Prime Minister says she doesn't want low-paid workers paying the price. They will pay a high price if they lose their jobs because their wages go up just as their employer's turnover plummets.
One of the hard parts of government in a crisis is letting go of things you want to do to deal with the things you have to do. Inaction on the minimum wage suggests the government hasn't yet worked out that it will have to change as much as it requires change from everyone else.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson has been working on the Government's Covid-19 economic package. But is it enough?
Finally they need to tell us much more about how they are preparing for what is coming. The winter flu season is on its way, and it's likely to be a lot worse than usual. What contingencies are being put in place; how many temporary extra beds will there be in each hospital; what temporary hospitals have been leased, what protections are in place for medical staff?
Why hasn't non-urgent spending like the Shane Jones Fund been handed to a hand-picked team tasked to find and equip temporary treatment centres? Is the Health Minister over the detail of these preparations the way his best predecessors would have been? And if so, why isn't he sharing the plans?
Strategic planning, a consistent approach, and clear straight-forward communication. These are critical in a crisis. The Government needs to lift its sights from the daily news cycle and stop the yo-yoing around.
* Steven Joyce is the former National government minister of finance.