Covid 19 coronavirus: Fran OSullivan: Businesses need less podium performance and more facts

OPINION:

Jacinda Ardern gave the appearance of relishing her podium performances rather too much as she yesterday delayed announcing that Auckland’s level 4 lockdown will be extended by at least one week.

I’ve written before about Ardern’s irritating habit of failing to “just get to the point, Prime Minister” when she indulges in lengthy preambles prior to making the only announcement that the country really wants to hear in these Covid press conferences: “What level of lockdown are we in and for how long?” and “how many cases are we today?” etc.

As a business colleague noted to me yesterday, the PM’s communications approach seems to have been modelled on those annoying “click through” questions that crop up on social media where, for instance, you might be invited to look at movie actor Sam Neill’s mansion and would have to click “next” multiple times first, meantime being swarmed by advertisements.

This approach has worked well for her political brand to this point.

But how refreshing it would have been if Ardern had just said the whole country would be at level 4 until 11.59pm on Tuesday — except for Auckland (host to the infection outbreak) which would stay at that level for at least another week.

Ardern was put the spot by Herald Political Editor Claire Trevett who asked her directly whether she had received advice from Ashley Bloomfield that the Auckland lockdown should be extended to August 31. Ardern equivocated.

Bloomfield — who is by now quite a practiced politician himself — started to make his usual dance on the proverbial pin before indicating that he had indeed given Cabinet advice that he wanted an extension of the Auckland lockdown.

Ardern’s subsequent response that “it’s too soon to draw any reasonable conclusions” makes a nonsense of her oft claim that Cabinet makes its decisions on scientific and expert advice.

Wait until after Monday’s Cabinet response, was the Prime Minister’s statement.

But if Bloomfield’s advice was in front of the special Cabinet meeting yesterday, why not just take it and give Aucklanders some certainty that the level4lockdown will go to August 31 (at least)?

That would certainly have assisted businesses with their planning. There is considerable confusion in business circles over just what the phrase du jour — a “short, sharp lockdown” — means in practice. Is it that a level 4 lockdown will be followed by alertlevels 3 and 2restrictions, which seems intuitively to be the case? Or does it herald an immediate return to a level 1 scenario after the “short, sharp lockdown” is over?

For smaller businesses and those exposed to, for example, the “hospo” industry, such a level of understanding is critical. And from conversations I had with a number of smaller businesses earlier this week they would be assisted if there was more emphasis on expectation settings rather than dragging out announcements.

Thankfully, the Prime Minister got to the point rather more quickly than usual with her announcement that the rest of New Zealand would stay in the level 4 lockdown until 11.59pm next Tuesday along with Auckland and the Coromandel.

If that also has to be extended, so be it.

The “team of 5 million” is well-practised now. Multiple lockdowns — particularly in Auckland — have an obvious synchronicity to them.

The emergence of the Delta variant has changed things and New Zealanders are responding in record numbers to the threat by getting tests and booking vaccinations.

This underlines that New Zealanders know what they are about. We only need to look across to Sydney and Melbourne to understand the sad reality of inaction.

Yesterday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian extended the Sydney lockdown to September 30. I tuned into SkyNews to watch Berejiklian’s media conference. It was sobering. There are a host of new restrictions including curfews in some parts of Greater Sydney.

Australians are in a race against time to get vaccinated. There is fear that their hospital system will be swamped if they cannot stamp out this virus sufficiently until some 80 per cent (according to the Victorian Premier) are vaccinated and restrictions can be lessened.

Daniel Andrews’ message that the “virus had got away on them” showed the consequences of the Australian States letting their guard down.

It is imperative that New Zealanders continue to take the lockdown seriously. Reaching a 70-80 per cent vaccination target before year’s end is crucial if we are to move to reopen the border in the first quarter of 2022.

The Prime Minister has proven adept at massaging the messaging at her Covid press conferences. But she would give more confidence if she just let Bloomfield speak for himself in future rather than answering for him.

And to keep focused on the prize: Reopening to the world.

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