ZB

Jack Tame: We've delayed the inevitable - the worst economic pain is still to come

Author
Jack Tame,
Publish Date
Sat, 21 May 2022, 9:23am
Photo / Getty
Photo / Getty

Jack Tame: We've delayed the inevitable - the worst economic pain is still to come

Author
Jack Tame,
Publish Date
Sat, 21 May 2022, 9:23am

When 73-year-old Anne Guenole died, it was national news.

Every media outlet in the country did stories. Anne’s family remembered her as a quiet nana and great-grandmother who spent most of her time at home on the South Island’s beautiful West Coast. She’d been hospitalised with a suspected case of influenza.

Except it wasn’t influenza. Anne was the first New Zealander to die of Covid-19.

That was March, 2020. I was thinking about that moment this morning, as I reflected on how much our collective attitude have changed in the two years since.

Since Anne Guenole died, more than a thousand New Zealanders have died with Covid-19. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve died of Covid-19. I appreciate the distinction. But many of those deaths were untimely, and we continue to record ten or twenty deaths a day. Where once we gasped if the daily infection numbers were in the high teens or early twenties, now we barely pay attention to daily cases in the thousands.

Could you tell me to the closest thousand how many infections New Zealand recorded on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week?

It’s neither good or bad. It just says something about our psychology. It’s fascinating to me how quickly we’ve switched. Given access to vaccines and an end to lockdowns and restrictions, in a sense we’ve largely moved on. Even if the virus hasn’t.

It was reflected in the budget, this week. For all the budget nicknames – braindrain budget, backwards budget, climate budget – no one was calling it a Covid budget. The cost of living has overtaken the pandemic and is far-and-away the biggest concern for a majority New Zealanders. Grant Robertson’s plans were those of a finance minister and a government that feels vulnerable to criticism over their role in inflation.

It’s funny to think about how politicians frame these things. For two years, many people felt the government was prioritising lives over the economy. It’s a silly binary – if we’ve learnt anything from Covid-19, it’s that economy activity and the pandemic are closely linked.

But it is true that we used to take far greater steps in order to protect lives. We had a far lower tolerance for infections and death. If we’re playing the same silly binary game today, you couldn’t argue that New Zealand isn’t prioritising the economy over doing everything possible to save lives.

We’ve flipped. We’ve crossed the threshold. And I have a similar nagging feeling to that in the early stages of the pandemic. We can do what we can to soften the landing but it’s still going to hurt. Unfortunately, when you look at our economic position, inflation, growth, and interest rates, we’ve been delaying the inevitable.

This time it isn’t Covid cases. It’s economic pain. Unfortunately for New Zealand, the worst is still to come.