Where’s the plan?

Auckland’s second Level 3 lockdown this year, which began on Sunday (28 February) at 6am, has dealt another blow to the economy and our industry. The cost of having Auckland at Level 3 and the rest of the country at Level 2 is estimated to be $240 million per week.

Each time the  Government yo-yos in and out of levels without some kind of articulated long-term plan for dealing with Covid-19, businesses and their workers get more fatigued. Each lockdown, some businesses don’t survive.

I am worried about what I am hearing from our industry regarding everyone’s health, safety and wellbeing. We need to look out for each other and recognise the extra mile that transport operators are going for their customers – and in many cases to accommodate their fatigued or stressed staff. Do you have the support in place to cope? If you don’t, please reach out to one of your associations for assistance.

Sunday was a nightmare for trucks trying to get into Auckland. As I have repeatedly said, the border to Auckland has been closed enough now that you would think there was a concrete plan in place to make traffic run smoothly. When people were told to “go home” why was it necessary to stop everyone going into Auckland? Not many people would be going there if they didn’t have to. Shouldn’t the focus have been on people trying to get out of Auckland?

Truck drivers were queued for up to six hours. Some had livestock, which raises animal welfare concerns; some had perishable goods and it was a very hot day, which means someone loses some revenue somewhere; and some had already been on the road for hours, which raises serious health and safety concerns. Not being able to deliver on time causes many drivers a lot of anxiety.

The messaging from government was that they had to be patient. We have been patient. But we have also asked that we see measurable improvement each time there is a lockdown because surely, someone is recording “how to do this better next time” and surely, there’s a better action plan. For this Level 3, the waits at the border roadblocks were worse than the previous time a couple of weeks earlier.

Other countries are moving ahead with Covid-19 recovery plans and New Zealand should be past these rapid level changes. There are plenty of examples of managing Covid-19 in 2021 without locking down a major city and the economy. New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian contains flare-ups in Sydney without a city-wide lockdown or closing businesses. Her nuanced approach focuses on lockdowns on the most affected suburbs and limits on gatherings, without banning them altogether.

This week in New Zealand, business leaders called on the government to share its planning on a clear path out of Covid-19, given we are going to have to live with it for some years and as a trading nation, we simply cannot remain locked off from the rest of the world. At the moment we can no longer even fly into Australia from New Zealand. The Australians don’t have confidence in New Zealand’s response to this latest outbreak.

There are also calls for the New Zealand Government to be like their contemporaries in Australia, and articulate the plan for the roll out of the Covid-19 vaccine. The RTF has asked when truck drivers will be vaccinated, given the risks their jobs involve and their essential role in keeping the economy moving.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield is a wonderful human being and there is no doubt, his advice throughout the New Zealand’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been outstanding.

However, if we are ever to make it from what seems to be a series of knee-jerk responses, to the planned ongoing “life with Covid-19” recovery, leadership now needs to come from politicians. They are who the people of New Zealand elected to lead the country, not a health department public servant.

We have seen good leadership from Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. Can we change his portfolio to Covid-19 Recovery Minister and get on with it like Israel, Taiwan, Australia, and even the United States – population over 330 million – where they now say they will have enough vaccinations for the entire adult population by May.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Prepare for alert level changes

Those who were hoping 2021 might be a better year on the Covid-19 front were sadly, wishful thinking.

We now have cases of Covid-19 found in the community in Northland and Auckland and realistically, businesses need to be prepared for some form of alert level change that will mean further restrictions.

This is not good news when the supply chain is being pulled so tight it is about to burst.

The Prime Minister has said the border will remain closed in 2021 and the Government has said when (and if) New Zealand gets the Covid-19 vaccine, it will take six months to vaccinate 5 million people – quite a lag behind the rest of the world.

With our community cases being the more contagious South African strain of Covid-19, Australia turned the tables on us and stopped quarantine-free travel on Monday – currently until Sunday, but given the new community cases this is likely to be longer.

This not only disrupts the few passengers using those flights – which have all been cancelled – it adds further strain to the supply chain with the cargo for those flights also left high and dry. If planes don’t go out, then there is no return flight bringing goods into New Zealand. How long Air New Zealand can sustain running at a massive loss and being propped up by the Government is anyone’s guess, but another year or two might be a big ask.

In disaster there is always opportunity, so if some other airline wants to pick up a busy freight route and cause some disruption, now’s the time.

New Zealand remains highly reactive, with again, no real evidence of long-term disaster response plans. The Government seems largely unconcerned about the looming disaster that supply chain failure will bring.

The Government has also been caught not being open with the public about the cases in the community. They were forced into revealing the Auckland community cases after Hone Harawira alerted the media. That is unacceptable.

The only way to get on top of community transmission is immediate action. That means telling people who have been to the same places as infected people the minute they know. Withholding information threatens the goodwill of their compliant “team of 5 million”.

On the business front, it’s a matter of being prepared. The RTF’s Covid-19 webpage remains active and we will keep up to date information here. When the Government releases information it is available on its Covid-19 webpage here.

If Auckland and/or Northland are put into lockdown, we will continue to work with the Government and other parts of the supply chain to free up freight routes.

Truck drivers are out and about throughout the country so are at higher risk when there are cases in the community.

It may be time to remind your staff of the best hygiene practices to combat the spread of Covid-19, most importantly, staying home if they are sick. They also need to keep track of where they’ve been (use the NZ COVID Tracer app and turn on Bluetooth); wash their hands regularly; cough or sneeze into their elbow; practice physical distancing; and clean surfaces that get touched frequently. They may have to return to wearing face masks, so make sure you have supplies.

The reality of Covid-19 is we are all at the mercy of the Government’s response and we will deal with it as it pans out. The RTF will continue to negotiate an environment where trucks can go about the important task of carrying the economy and keeping up the flow of essentials, such as food and medicines.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum