By Tom Peters
November 11, 2021, original URL: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2021/11/11/reop-n11.html
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday that her Labor Party-led government plans to end the Auckland lockdown at the end of the month. Although the city is at the center of a worsening outbreak of the Delta variant of COVID-19, the government on Wednesday authorized the reopening of retail businesses and public facilities. Hundreds of people are said to have lined up, some for hours, outside stores at Sylvia Park, WestCity and Albany malls.
As of Thursday, there were 3,056 active cases, most in Auckland, with 127 in neighboring Waikato, 30 in rural and largely impoverished Northland, and four in Christchurch. Deaths from the pandemic have risen to 33 and there are 84 people hospitalized.
Ardern said reopening the retail business carries a “low risk” of transmission of COVID-19, which goes against warnings from public health experts. Professor Michael Plank, a COVID-19 modeller, told Radio NZ that the move was “risky” as cases “were still rising quite sharply, doubling about every 12 days.” He noted that 700 community cases in the past 14 days were unrelated, meaning the source of the infection is not known and contact tracing cannot keep up with the growing spread.
Epidemiologist Michael Baker told Stuff on Monday it was “undesirable” to ease the restrictions. Highlighting the exponential increase in cases, he also urged the government not to reopen schools. Many high school students have already returned to class, and the government is announcing that it will open all schools on November 17.
Chief Health Officer Dr Ashley Bloomfield told media on Wednesday it was safe because “the spread is more likely to occur outside schools than indoors.” In fact, the reopening of schools has resulted in an increase in the number of cases and deaths in the United States, Britain and elsewhere.
Ardern said “all businesses”, including bars and restaurants, are expected to reopen at the end of the month, while Auckland is expected to have 90% of residents over 12 fully vaccinated. She said “cases will increase, but that’s not the only consideration,” and the government was taking into account the needs of the companies, i.e. asking them to end any obstacles to extraction. of working class profits.
So far, 65% of New Zealand’s population is fully vaccinated, which is 77% of those eligible. The epidemic is spreading widely, but not exclusively, among the unvaccinated, highlighting the fact that vaccines alone are not enough to stop the pandemic.
Corporate media are celebrating the reopening of retail, with Stuff, the New Zealand Herald and other outlets provocatively calling November 29 “Freedom Day”. This phrase was notoriously used by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to describe the homicidal lifting of public health restrictions on July 19. Since then, the UK has recorded more than 13,200 deaths from COVID-19 and the virus is allowed to spread uncontrollably.
The low death toll in New Zealand compared to other countries is due to the adoption in March 2020 of an elimination strategy. Ardern announced on October 4 that there would be a “transition” away from this policy, despite its broad support within the working class and among public health experts in New Zealand and abroad.
Over the past month, following decisions to ease restrictions, the number of active cases has nearly sevenfold, and the government is telling people it must accept thousands more, along with inevitable deaths. .
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins made it clear on Wednesday that “COVID-19 will not remain contained in Auckland.” He said Aucklanders would be allowed to travel outside the city over the Christmas holidays and the rest of the country would be exposed to the virus as the government abandons the use of lockdowns to stop the spread.
The public health system is facing a preventable disaster. Stuff reported on Wednesday that general practitioners in South Auckland must follow people with COVID-19 who are in isolation at home, as Auckland Regional Public Health, the agency responsible for this work, has become “overwhelmed.”
Meanwhile, far-right, anti-containment and anti-vaccination protests continue. About 3,000 people marched through Wellington on Tuesday and rallied outside Parliament, calling for an end to public health restrictions and opposing vaccination mandates for teachers, healthcare workers and others.
The protest was led by Destiny Church and supported by similar groups, in a front organization called the Freedom and Rights Coalition. Many people carried New Zealand and Maori nationalist flags, a few carried Trump banners, and there was at least one QAnon flag. Outside Parliament, a speaker denounced the media as “terrorists” and called the containment measures “dictatorship”.
In a live Facebook comment during the event, Destiny Church co-leader Hannah Tamaki combined anti-containment and anti-vaxx demagoguery with denunciations of migrant workers and calls for police to be paid more. .
The far right is encouraged by the political establishment and the media. National Opposition Party leader Judith Collins told Stuff the government should not “reject” the “huge protest”. She described some of the anti-vaccination messages as “unnecessary” but said many people there were “fed up with the government”. She demanded an “end date” for vaccination warrants to appease those who oppose the measure.
On November 6, the Herald ran an important editorial by Leo Molloy, bar and restaurant owner and close friend of Brian and Hannah Tamaki of Destiny Church. He said: “We are going to learn to live with Covid, we have to do it, just like the rest of the world has done … We don’t need a dictatorial nanny state government that wipes it away from us. snotty noses and confines us to barracks. Longer.”
Molloy told Newshub yesterday that he would reopen his business on December 1, whether or not the government lifts the restrictions. He said he received “encouragement and positive support from the police.”
As in other countries, the union bureaucracy seeks to ensure that there is no organized opposition to return to work and return to school.
At the Labor Party conference last weekend, Richard Wagstaff, Chairman of the Council of Trade Unions (CTU), hailed what he called a “master class in leadership from our Prime Minister and his team”. He made no mention of the dangerous easing of restrictions in Auckland, and instead praised the “tripartite” collaboration during the pandemic between CTU, government and business leaders, saying “we, as nation, we’re in the same boat as a team of five million. “
FIRST Union posted a Facebook post on November 8 stating that “some retail workers are feeling worried and anxious.” Instead of opposing the unsafe return to work, however, the union has called on workers and buyers to wear masks and follow social distancing and other public health guidelines, implying the reopening could go ahead. do it safely.
The Post-Primary Teachers’ Association said on October 20 it was “appalled and angry” at the partial reopening of secondary schools. But the union refused to organize industrial action to protect students, staff and their families. Macleans College, Avondale College and Mt Albert Grammar all closed their doors last week after students tested positive for COVID-19. The primary teachers’ union, NZEI Te Riu Roa, made no statement on the plan to open all schools on November 17, tacitly supporting the government’s decision.
The role of these pro-capitalist organizations underscores the need for workers, including teachers and parents, to take matters into their own hands. The WSWS and the Socialist Equality Group in New Zealand are calling on workers to form grassroots safety committees, outside of union structures, to oppose the government’s program of spreading COVID-19 across the country. Such committees urgently need to be put in place to stop the reopening of schools and businesses as COVID-19 spirals out of control, and to fight for the elimination of the deadly virus, both in New Zealand and in abroad.
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