Analysis – As the New Zealand Delta struggles to control the spread and speed up the vaccination process, social cohesion is essential to a successful eradication strategy.
The political consensus on the end is still there. Unlike anti-mask and anti-vaccination movements, most New Zealanders continue to support the Prime Minister’s decision to keep the country under the strictest lockdown.
But pressure is mounting on the public consensus, with less than an ideal parliament, some pressure against the lockdown and a movement to “open up”.
These debates will intensify as the government moves towards a difficult discussion on exit strategies and vaccination rate targets.
Disagreement and debate in Parliament.
At the highest level, the country has been disappointed on all sides.
During a nationwide lockdown last year, the prime minister formed a committee to deal with the epidemic. It represents a government that is largely objectionable to public questioning through a parliamentary body. The opposition was constructive in finding the best way forward. It was a constitutional form of government.
This time, all sides in the political arena have failed. It began with the decision to suspend the parliamentary session on the advice of the Director General of Health. Any such advice should have been made in conjunction with the Attorney General, as it has important constitutional implications.
The epidemic response committee was not revived. Following a wave of criticism, the government developed a virtual option. Opposition parties have stated they will not run in the by-elections, but will seek to have the government re-elected.
As a result, very few politicians are in parliament. And smaller parties are staying away for health (not constitutional) reasons. This is a bad example of how our country should be governed in an emergency.
Disagreements in the wider community.
It is equally difficult to deal with protests outside parliament during this epidemic. The important point here is that people have rights, but these rights can be subject to reasonable limits.
All New Zealanders have the right to peaceful protest in public, but where, when and how can this be curtailed. Basically, no one has the right to protest in the midst of a national lockdown.
Other rights such as freedom of expression are maintained, whether it is contagious or not. However, this is not without limits. For example, advocating in public about vaccination is legal, but it can’t be misleading or really wrong.
The above examples are generally related to situations in which a minority group is trying to influence the views of the majority. But the debate becomes more complicated when the majority tries to get small groups to do things they don’t agree with.
Compulsion and harming others.
Vaccination is likely to bring this problem to the forefront. The government has launched a phased reopening of the border based on its elimination strategy. The plan will eventually allow vaccine travelers from low-risk countries to enter without quarantine.
This will only be possible if a large proportion of New Zealanders are vaccinated. Earlier modeling showed that, for the alpha variant of the Covid 19, 80-85% of the population would need to be vaccinated before New Zealand’s border control could be relaxed. For more movable delta tensions, the current epidemic in New Zealand, we will need to reach 97% of the population.
While Australia and other countries are now discussing how to adapt to the ongoing presence of Covid 19, accept deaths and hospitalizations, New Zealand has so far “done away with the virus and kept our options open.” Maintains elimination as a strategy. “
Whatever vaccination targets may be needed, it will be a challenge to reach 21% of the population fully from the current level of vaccines. The government will likely need to use concessions and some coercion.
Free vaccinations are an effective way to overcome vaccine hesitation if they are provided easily and safely as part of a public health education campaign. Reducing the age for vaccination will also increase the overall percentage of optic. If all else fails, cash incentives can help boost voluntary vaccinations.
But coercion may be necessary. Although the general rule is that people can refuse medical treatment, it can be rejected in times of emergency and rules and regulations can be introduced to enforce vaccinations. This is where we need to be careful. The temptation is to use coercion or heavy hand pressure (such as restricting social welfare) against those who choose not to be vaccinated.
So far, the government has only introduced legislation to make it mandatory for some workers, such as people at the border, to be vaccinated. This is done to reduce the risk to others, and is the right measure to use.
If people choose not to be vaccinated and are at risk of harming others, the government should intervene, explaining the risk posed to the unprotected, in addition to their potential self-harm. It should then pass laws that allow appropriate levels of discrimination against those who refuse the vaccine.
This means that if the risk of harming others can be shown, it may be acceptable to prevent unsafe people from entering restaurants, but not from buying food from a supermarket (although strict safety measures are in place). Can be emphasized). Conversely, if a non-vaccinated person only threatens to harm himself, the government should reap the full consequences of its choice.
Alexander Gillespie is a professor of law at the University of Wycombe.
Gillespie does not fund, consult with or benefit from any company or organization, and has not made any relevant commitment outside of their academic appointment.