Potholes in the road out of pandemic
Political opponents of the Government must at times feel trapped on a road to nowhere. It’s like one of those misty mornings in winter when drivers struggle to see the motorway stretched out ahead. When is the fog going to lift?
The general driving conditions are being set by a difficult, tricky foe — a coronavirus.
Some countries, including this one, have shown that incumbent leaders can shine under the pandemic pressure.
It’s much harder for opponents to gain visibility in this wartime emergency-like atmosphere, when lives and wellbeing are at stake, if governments are reasonably competent and manage to provide support to the public.
In New Zealand, the trust built up last year in the Government’s Covid-19 response is not easily evaporated, with it succeeding in the basic tasks of keeping people safe and the economy afloat.
That’s especially the case for a broad swathe of Kiwis who value the relative normality of life here during the pandemic and don’t have an urgent desire, for now, to go offshore for work, family reasons or holidays.
Critics and experts have regularly pointed out weaknesses, mistakes, and improvements that could be made to the official response. Some have been addressed. Dogged prodding from epidemiologists has been necessary.
The experts have warned of the dangers with much of the population unvaccinated. The Covid-19 wave sweeping around the region — previously in India and Pakistan, now in Australia, Fiji, and Indonesia — bears that out.
Australia and Fiji’s problems with the Delta variant are especially sobering considering our close neighbours have been a comparison point for us all the way through.
The transtasman bubble is a source of risk. Stats NZ says there were 189,500 total border crossings in May, mostly to do with travel across the Ditch.
But apart from several border scares, vaccination and business frustrations, and some economic damage, the response here so far has been both resilient and fortunate. Political opponents have often raised the spectre of calamity instead of being able to criticise actual disasters.
They have turned to wedge issues to find openings such as migration, crime, race, housing, transportation, urban development, climate crisis measures.
While these have highlighted community differences and unease among some sectors over the country’s direction, they have yet to shave much voter support from the Government. A recent UMR poll showed the Labour Party with twice as much support as National.
National is treading the well-worn path of a long-time successful governing party sent to the Opposition benches. Political renewal takes time and upheaval. Both National and Labour have been there, done that.
The trust built up last year in the Government’s Covid19 response is not easily evaporated.
One area of political danger for Labour, because it cuts across different sectors, could be inflationary pressures.
The fact that vaccination rates are either still low or have plateaued in many countries, giving the coronavirus more opportunities to mutate as variants, means pandemicrelated problems such as disruptions to supplies, labour shortages, and shipping costs could continue for some time. Oil prices are also up at present.
High house prices help some people and hurt others, but higher mortgage rates would widen the pool of those impacted.
Everyone also gets hit by rising costs whether it be paying for veges — up by 15 per cent in June — or petrol at the pump.
That could all increase levels of disgruntlement towards the Government. But the virus still remains the overwhelming issue it is being judged on. A successful vaccine rollout followed by a limited form of reopening next year would be popular.
However, there is a clear nightmare scenario for the Government that will disrupt sleep until the vaccine programme is completed.
It would involve a bad coronavirus outbreak that took time to bring under control, putting pressure on the health system while vaccinations are still under way, and dampening the current economic recovery.
The slow pace of the vaccination rollout and the transtasman bubble are latent threats to the Government’s credibility on its Covid response, that could still combine to strike — like a car crash from nowhere.