OPINION: Perhaps sensing blood in the water for the Government as Auckland begins its second lockdown in a fortnight, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has pointed to the personal failures of a few and stoked the fear of death by Covid.
“Covid kills people ... We must never lose sight of the reason we take these measures,” Ardern said, opening a press conference with two “reminders” on Sunday afternoon.
Yet another community Covid-19 case, a 21-year-old man who tested positive on Saturday evening, had led to a fourth lockdown of Auckland. But this is the first time the Government had, in the face of a discrete cluster, returned to level 3 restrictions after climbing down – an acknowledgement the prior short, sharp lockdown didn't work.
Ardern and her Covid team were traversing a fine line on Sunday: holding the 21-year-old responsible for the virus’ potential spread, while insisting it’s not about blaming individuals for failing the team of five million.
Compliance among a few has become a serious problem. Recent community Covid-19 cases went to work at Kmart and KFC when they should have been self-isolating, and the 21-year-old hit the gym after a test.
But the pitch for personal responsibility masked a more difficult, politically-prickly question.
Could more have been done? The exit from the last lockdown was clearly the riskiest bet the Government has taken yet – though even the wariest Covid experts were supportive after first expressing caution.
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The virus has continued to spread since. Health officials were following up hundreds of contacts yet to be tested and more than 1500 people were asked to self-isolate before Saturday, an ask which came with lacklustre enforcement and financial support.
Ardern insisted on Sunday the Government had not misjudged the risk of further spread. Instead, the weight of the country's expectations had been placed on the shoulders of the Papatoetoe families unfortunate enough to receive this latest bout of Covid.
"We were asking those at highest risk to remain in isolation, and they had very specific asks of them.
"The alternative would've been for Auckland to stay at alert level 3 for 13 days, just in case people weren't following the guidance that they were being given.
"I'm not sure Auckland would have considered that a reasonable ask. We can succeed again, but we need people to follow the rules. And we can operate with these short, sharp measures, if people do what we ask them.”
Back in lockdown, with the clock reset on further spread of the more transmissible UK variant and the Government scrambling to catch up, it's reasonable to expect a full 14-days of restrictions may be required.
There will be more cases. On Sunday, a further community case of Covid-19 tested positive, a member of a family captured by the cluster already in quarantine.
Making it hard to argue against the Government's move to lockdown.
But – with human error a reoccurring feature of New Zealand's flirtations with Covid-19 – it's fair to expect some frank introspection from the Government about whether its expectations were unreasonable.