COVID policy all politics and not evidence

Tue, 01 Mar, 2022

“Jacinda Ardern has today confirmed in Parliament what we already knew, she’s making up the rules as she goes along and none of it is based on evidence,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“I asked the Prime Minister in Parliament today, how many cases and hospitalisations would result from opening the border to all travellers this week? She doesn’t know. We heard a few hundred extra cases would result if foreign travellers could come and had to self isolate, but not if they had could just come here.

“There’s no reason not to let all travellers come to New Zealand and self isolate, a few hundred extra cases a day in the context of 20,000 domestic cases per day is irrelevant. The real question is what difference would it make if foreign travellers were allowed to come to New Zealand without isolating?

“The question matters for tourism, and parts of the country that depend critically on tourism. They are devastated and every extra week that our reconnection is delayed matters. The Prime Minister says she has advice that we should wait until after the Omicron peak. But can’t tell us the numbers.

“What we need is cost benefit analysis. What are the benefits of opening the border to foreigners without isolation requirements, and what are the costs to cases and hospitalisation? Without knowing that, Jacinda is playing politics with people’s lives.

“When asked how many of Monday’s 344 hospitalisations were admitted to hospital due to COVID-19 versus being admitted for something else and testing positive while there, the Prime Minister gave a long list of reasons why she doesn’t know the answer.

“If border decisions are made to protect the hospital systems, then the Prime Minister needs to explain what analysis of the costs and benefits is driving her decisions. Then there’s hope for the rest of our COVID Response.

“The Prime Minister said yesterday that she’s asked Professor David Skegg and his advisory group to evaluate the other covid settings. The great news is that ACT has already done that work. We have carried out cost benefit analysis of all of the COVID restrictions:

  • Scanning and contact tracing: Contact tracing creates relatively minor costs, but also delivers negligible benefits because it does not reach enough potential contacts or reach them fast enough in light of Omicron’s higher transmissibility. It results in some people isolating because they are “pinged” but often not in time to prevent them from transmitting the virus. The resulting isolation that comes from being pinged is a growing disaster for business and supply chains. The requirement for businesses to display codes and have people scan in should be dropped, along with the requirement to contact trace cases, because it’s just not working. Dropping these requirements would be an important symbol that we are moving on and getting our way of life back. It should be done immediately.
  • Mask requirements: Well-worn and high-quality masks can help prevent spread. Mask wearing likely has significant benefits for reducing the spread of Omicron, although this is sensitive to mask quality. While extremely irritating, it is one of the few current policies where it is reasonable to believe that the benefits outweigh the costs.
  • Boosters: Relative to a two-shot regimen, booster shots significantly reduce the likelihood of death and serious illness due to COVID-19. There is a limited cost. Boosters are an important way to reduce the costs of the inevitable spread of Omicron through the community. Nonetheless, given most of the benefits of booster doses go to those who get boosted, there is little case for mandating them.
  • Vaccine requirements: It is difficult to justify a vaccination mandate purely on the grounds that it reduces hospitalisation risk for unvaccinated people themselves and thus pressure on the health system. This effect has already reached saturation. Unless a new requirement for boosters is introduced, mandating is having negligible effect on vaccine uptake and should be dropped immediately.
  • Traffic Light Framework: The Government has dashed large events and hospitality businesses at enormous cost with little consideration for what the benefits might be. If they have cost-benefit analysis for Omicron, they have not presented it. We have been asked to accept these restrictions with no idea whether they will leave us better off or by how much. Unless the Government can show the benefits of restricting large events in an Omicron environment, in terms of reducing the peak demand on hospital capacity, the Traffic Light System should be dumped immediately so we can all move on.
  • Ban on importing RATs: There are no benefits to the ban, but the costs are considerable. The Government should adopt ACT’s policy that New Zealanders can import any test that is approved by authorities in Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, or the European Union.

“We should not keep ineffective and costly rules because they make us feel comfortable if there’s no evidence that they work. If rules are not useful they should go, and it should be up to the Government that imposes them on us to explain why they should stay. It’s time to stop the fear and the control. It’s time to move on.”

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