Coronavirus - the crisis
The coronavirus is a real crisis. Its implications are already impacting on thousands of Nelsonians’ lives and businesses. It is dominating my work as I do everything possible to assist people and help ensure the Government’s response protects people’s health, businesses and jobs.
Managing this sort of crisis is not easy for Governments. I have been in the Cabinet room through the Global Financial Crisis, the Christchurch earthquakes, the Pike River Mining Disaster and the Kaikoura earthquake. Decisions have to be made with imperfect information. The situation can change rapidly.
It is so crucial to public trust in such crises that Government is open, timely and straight with information. The situation should not be exaggerated or minimised but told as it is. This includes being honest about uncertainties.
The Government’s response to such a crisis needs to be consistent and build public confidence. The temptation to react to the daily demands of the news cycle risks a reactionary approach that flips wildly and lacks strategic direction.
I do not think the Government realised the severity of this developing crisis in January and February. We were behind the US, UK and Australia in screening flights and in issuing official advisories on travel to coronavirus hot spots. We were too slow in applying travel restrictions for people from Italy when it was plain the disease was out of control there.
A better job has been done on cruise ships. The management of the NZr’s on the Diamond Princess in Japan was spot on. The ban on cruise ship passengers coming ashore here was a bit slow but is now in place.
The strongest criticism I have received from Nelson constituents has been from people travelling through our international airports. They were critical that in airports like Taiwan, Hong Kong, Sydney and Singapore, every passenger was questioned and temperature checked, whereas the checks on entering New Zealand were negligible.
We have now flipped at the weekend from having some of the weakest travel restrictions to some of the toughest. My request of Government is to be more strategic and more open, with less yo-yoing and greater consistency. We need straight forward communications and clearer leadership.
The economic implications for our region are huge. We need to cease wasteful spending like Shane Jones’ pet fund and put the money into support for businesses and families facing hardship. We should also freeze any new regulations and costs that could put businesses under or cause job losses.
I am being inundated with constructive ideas on how we in Nelson and Tasman can get through this crisis. I organised the public meeting last month on coronavirus to be supportive and constructive. I am also available to help businesses with particular problems and needs.
I see Australians are hoarding toilet paper. Americans are buying more guns. I encourage Nelsonians to respond sensibly and compassionately. We should heed the advice of our health professionals, washing hands regularly and being extra cautious about working or going out when sick. This is a time for Nelsonians to step up our care for each other.