The traffic light system was ignominiously dismissed at the beginning of this week, ending on September 12the. It’s apparently done its time and is no longer needed. More correct might be, this was never a very good structure so it will not be greatly missed (here were my thoughts when it was instituted).
We are told that New Zealand has ‘reached a milestone’, allowing New Zealanders to take back control (of what, I am not quite sure). Anti-viral drugs are an important part of the solution and 1 million people will have access to them. Has the Prime Minister ignored the advice from her Chief Science Advisor, amongst others, in terms of the risk of resistance to anti-virals? There has been no mention of this.
Vaccine mandates are now dropped. I guess this is not so controversial in that most people have been vaccinated if they were ever going to be. Whether the mandates were ever very effective, who knows. Household contacts of people with COVID-19 also no longer have to stay home. One of the few requirements is staying home for 7 days if you get COVID.
Masks are now only required in healthcare or aged-care settings. This removes a whole lot of confusion and mixed messaging e.g. one could not wear a mask in a restaurant or bar full of people but had to wear one in a supermarket where people were much more dispersed in a greater volume of air. I somewhat regret the gay abandonment of masks, given their effectiveness against transmission of multiple respiratory diseases. Not to mention that choosing to wear a mask is now even harder than it was before. The rhetoric from government saying that it should be acceptable for people to still wear masks is, indeed, simply rhetoric. Humans are social and social beings like to do what the other social beings are doing.
I particularly regretted abandoning of masks while at a meeting in the Queenstown Library yesterday, where someone sitting in the library for the 1.5 hours I was there, was coughing and spluttering with abandon. They didn’t feel the need to cough into elbow, hand or handkerchief – free coughing was good enough for them. Thanks for the germs, person. It seems a pity to me that masks couldn’t have become something that it made sense to wear when you have symptoms of a respiratory illness and are out in public.
Disabled and immune-compromised communities supposedly feel ignored by the removal of masks, vaccine mandates and isolation requirements. This makes me think, why didn’t we hear these communities calling for the implementation of masks and mandated vaccination during the annual influenza season in previous times (when 500 people a year died from influenza)…everything is relative. Once you are scared of something you tend to remain scared, even if the need to be scared goes away. Conversely, if everyone accepts something…us social beings all accept it with each other.
The government has qualified its removal of restrictions by saying things might change if a new (worse) variant of COVID-19 turns up. So where are we on the new variant front? Only a few days ago there were articles stating surprise that no new variants were emerging. Omicron BA.5 remained ruling the roost. However, COVID doesn’t like to rest on its laurels for too long and now BA.4.6 is emerging. It’s a bit better at evading the immune system than BA.5, which is why its prevalence is increasing. However, there is no evidence it is more lethal – none of the Omicron strains appear to have been more lethal.
There is a lot of work going into development of vaccines that will protect against multiple strains of COVID as a long term solution. Boosters have been developed that protect against BA.4 and BA.5, as well as earlier COVID strains. In addition, an antibody has been discovered that neutralises all currently known variants. However, whether humans can stay ahead of COVID, or COVID ahead of humans, remains to be seen. One can imagine our Prime Minister saying…all good as long as there’s no new strain in the remainder of my political term!