Freight and supply chain issues are impacting throughout New Zealand. Nick Leggett, CEO, Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand has his say one week before the Nov 5th announcement whether Auckland will remain at Level 4.
Elimination as the strategy for fighting against COVID-19 came to an end in New Zealand this week. Of course, the Prime Minister didn’t officially announce it at one of her 1pm daily party political broadcasts, because this government hedges around any change in course for fear of looking like they might have been wrong about something.
However, the decision to drop Auckland to Level 3 while there are still active daily cases in the community, and a prisoner was allowed to hop over the border and infect his family in the Waikato, is a clear steer that things are going to be different now. If either one of these events had occurred just a few weeks ago, we would have been straight into a lockdown. Now one would question whether we will ever see Level 4 again; here’s hoping not given the damage it does all around.
They have been getting cute with the language and Dr Ashley Bloomfield said on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report programme this week we may not get back to zero cases (that being the point most of us would understand as elimination).
The government has accurately assessed the mood of the nation. People don’t want to be locked down anymore. One only has to look at the amount of people at the beach in Auckland last weekend under Level 4, the parties and the street parties, not to mention the increase in fuel consumption recently, to see that people are over it. We’ve done our penance. Masks, social distancing, and of course vaccination, are our tools to keep the virus at bay now.
Back on 7 September, the Prime Minister, in justifying her decision to demand surveillance testing of every truck driver (and essential worker) crossing the Auckland road border, told us that this was the “price of more freedoms”. This was despite there being no evidence that truck drivers, or any other worker crossing the road border, had spread the virus anywhere.
Sure, there was the red herring of the truck driver who caught COVID from a household contact, which was detected through the normal contact tracing testing that happens when a case presents with the virus. That was blown up by the government spin machine to make it look like their surveillance testing of our industry was justified. They failed to say that the surveillance testing only requires proof of a test, not proof of a negative test result.
Our industry appears to still be “paying the PM’s price” while freedoms have been granted to the rest of the nation, as surveillance testing of truck drivers crossing Auckland’s border continues on past the lowering of Level 4. This requires a massive amount of police and defence personnel and even though they are running the best process they can, it still results in delays and angst for truck drivers and freight companies. There is also a massive amount of freight to be moved out of Auckland and through the rest of the country that has been stuck in the city’s five week Level 4 lockdown.
A lot of work goes in to ensuring drivers are tested every seven days. We also do a lot of waiting around for the Public Health Orders that lay down the letter of the law to be followed – each time there is an update these documents, which dictate the way businesses can run, are not forthcoming until literally, the eleventh hour. They come into play at 11.59pm and are often not available until just minutes before that. Our internet refresh buttons are taking a pounding. There is no consultation or discussion, whatever is in that next order is just done to us.
If we are not going to get back to, or aim for zero cases of COVID, where’s the evidence that this is a good idea as an ongoing process?
It’s not like the supply chain is working like a well-oiled machine. There is an ongoing situation of a lack of ships calling at New Zealand, to drop off goods from other parts of the world and pick up our exports. We are too small, too far away, and increasingly, too difficult to do business with as we remain closed and the rest of the world opens up.
Supply chain issues have been compounded by poor planning and an inability to think ahead by KiwiRail, as two out of their three ferries have been taken out of the Interislander service between North and South Islands. It is supposed to be just two weeks of inconvenience, but it’s KiwiRail so we are sceptical, and fear it might be more.
Transporting New Zealand has been focussed on this issue, raising it two weeks ago at a meeting with Transport Minister Michael Wood and KiwiRail CEO, Greg Miller. The latter launched into distracting bluster, talking about everything other than the inability to forecast this significant problem. We’ve also now followed up with the Minister in writing to outline specific industry concerns.
Our industry will move the freight that has been building up so buildings and houses can be completed, roads can be finished, shops can be filled and people can get back to some kind of normal life.
But New Zealand’s focus must turn to rebuilding our economy and getting people back to work and confident in some kind of plan moving forward (plan yet to be seen).
That needs to include addressing some of the significant hits to our collective and individual mental health. Part of that must be letting in the 30,000-plus New Zealanders who are waiting to come home to family and work, now lining up for limited MIQ spots like cattle in an overcrowded pen. Not allowing New Zealand citizens entry to their own country during a world crisis is inhumane. Let’s get it together and get this country, and its people, moving.