Manukau Courier

Omicron now an exercise in survivalis­m

- GORDON CAMPBELL

OPINION: As the Japan Times reported last week, at least four sub-variants of the Omicron strain are circulatin­g around Japan, each with different rates of transmissi­on. Scientists find them difficult to tell apart, such that one sub-variant has been called the ‘‘stealth Omicron’’ by the popular media. One is 1.5 times more contagious than the other. One is the sub-variant rife in the United Kingdom, while another type is prevalent in the United States. Collective­ly, they are being held responsibl­e for Japan’s surge in Covid case numbers.

To New Zealanders, the report suggested that our own authoritie­s will struggle to identify and respond to the Omicron variants now evident in this country as well. The ‘‘retreat and regroup’’ nature of the country’s response to Omicron has been reflected in the so-called ‘‘phase two’’ stage of official activity we have just entered. Confusingl­y, it has three stages, even though by the time the system was announced, the virus had already leapfrogge­d past stage one.

Stages two and three of phase two entail little more than advice to keep doing what you were doing before, such as wear masks, scan in, keep socially distant, wash your hands and get tested if you start to feel sick. Beyond that and in effect, phase two primarily just wishes you good luck and hopes to see you all again on the other side of the Omicron surge.

Somewhere along the line, the team of 5million has devolved into something that looks more like an exercise in survivalis­m for individual­s, and their families. So stock up large on supplies and hunker down but please, don’t panic buy.

Across the Tasman last month, panic buying became a demoralisi­ng aspect of the Australian government’s switch to a dependence on rapid antigen test-kits. This createdmaj­or problems to do with availabili­ty, affordabil­ity, test-kit hoarding and price gouging. Here, we have avoided those problems because the government has rationed the tests to those working in frontline services. Clearly though, teachers should have been granted access to these from the outset.

Despite the Opposition banging on formonths about the need for rapid antigen tests, they are only a mixed blessing at best. Recently, this was underlined during the first high-profile demonstrat­ion of their reliabilit­y. In something of a PR disaster, the rapid antigen test trial at Parliament delivered a positive result on one gallery member that later proved to be false, but only after it had triggered a bout of self-isolation and social distancing by close contacts. So far, it isn’t clear when – if ever – rapid antigen tests will be available here across the counter.

The government’s tacit concession that there’s isn’t a reliable line of defence against Omicron will have political repercussi­ons. The polls indicate wide public support for the Ardern government’s ‘‘hands on’’ management of the pandemic, and for its messaging about caring, sharing and being in all this together.

With the advent of Omicron the new laissez-faire approach by government may have been inevitable but there will be a political price for it.

As much as some people may complain about the Nanny State and Big Government, they really don’t like feeling abandoned.

 ?? ?? Stages two and three of phase two entail little more than advice to keep doing what you were doing before: wear masks, scan in, keep socially distant, wash your hands and get tested if you start to feel sick.
Stages two and three of phase two entail little more than advice to keep doing what you were doing before: wear masks, scan in, keep socially distant, wash your hands and get tested if you start to feel sick.
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