An alternative to mandates will help heal divisions

Fri, 11 Feb, 2022

“Labour’s mandates are causing huge disruption and division and we need an alternative way forward”, says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“The good news is that the Government’s small business officials at MBIE, Joe Biden, Denmark, and Air New Zealand all offer alternatives.

“Right now, some schoolkids are without teachers. The critical shortage of midwives is being exacerbated. Pregnant women say they’d rather have an unvaccinated midwife than no midwife. I’ve been approached by a group of women losing their beloved hydrotherapy instructor and a mental health worker who asked me, ‘can I not intervene in a suicide because I’m not vaccinated?’

“Nearly every sector is experiencing great difficulty with vaccination mandates. As a rule of thumb, it appears these sectors may lose five per cent of their workforce to mandates. None of them can afford that, they are all stretched already.

“ACT is as pro-vaccination as anyone. But we have said since November that Labour’s mandates went too far, that there should be the option of regular testing as a substitute, and that we should allow businesses to decide their own rules.

“We were once a team of five million. Labour is undoing that unity and replacing it with division.

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) told the Government it should allow businesses to make the choice about whether to require vaccine certificates or social distancing as an alternative:

‘Allow businesses and services to opt for CVCs [vaccine certificates] or distancing at Red and Amber: By allowing businesses and services to choose between the CVCs or distancing, they can more easily achieve public health outcomes in a way that best serves their customers. In some locations excluding unvaccinated people from e.g., community events or retail may further disadvantage some vulnerable communities (and possibly result in disenfranchisement and less vaccination).’

“Officials were concerned that mandates were too inflexible and would cause division.

“The American and Danish governments, and Air New Zealand, have allowed testing as an alternative to vaccination.

“Regular testing can provide as much if not more reassurance to people encountering essential workers that they are safe.

“The idea of a vaccinate or test rule is not new. It is the official policy of Denmark, where a phone app pass shows that a person is either vaccinated, recently tested, or has recently recovered from COVID. In the United States, Joe Biden’s policy requires firms with over 100 employees to be either vaccinated or tested.

“Air New Zealand’s official policy for domestic travel will be to require either vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours to fly. If it is good enough for Air New Zealand passengers flying around the country, is it not good enough for your midwife or teacher?

“ACT’s preferred policy is to allow businesses to decide their own policy for vaccination.

“Good policy gets to the heart of the problem it’s trying to solve, then asks what the best way to solve the problem is. The point of mandates is to save hospital capacity by lifting vaccination rates generally, and to prevent unvaccinated people from passing COVID-19 on to others.

“Mandates in specific sectors are a blunt way to lift overall rates. That should be done by an efficient rollout boosting availability and incentives.

“There is a meanness in the Government’s tone towards vaccination that is not good for social cohesion in the long term. We were once a team of five million uniting against COVID-19, but Ardern’s ‘my way or the highway’ approach to vaccine mandates is undoing that unity and replacing it with division.”