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  • rmacculloch

Professor Baker self-declares NZ's Covid strategy an economic success in the UK Guardian

In an extraordinary article in the UK Guardian, Professor Michael Baker tells British readers, "By most metrics, the NZ Covid-19 response - the initial elimination strategy which has now transitioned to a mitigation strategy - has been one of the most successful in the world". Moreover, in the British Medical Journal in 2020, he wrote that a "key message" of his paper was, "A goal of eliminating community transmission of the pandemic virus causing covid-19 is achievable & sustainable for some jurisdictions using non-pharmaceutical interventions & will be facilitated by the introduction of effective vaccines". Hang on. Is there one country in the world where "elimination" proved "sustainable"? That being said, I have no special insights on medical matters for which I am unqualified to comment.

It is the economic consequences of "elimination" which Prof. Baker discusses that do, however, concern me. He states in the Guardian, "Protecting public health [in NZ] has also been good for protecting the economy, resulting in relatively good economic growth & low unemployment".

Let's clarify one thing. Jobs were NOT "protected" by NZ's elimination strategy - that was achieved by the wage subsidy scheme, funded through billions of debt. Almost identical schemes were implemented right around the world, including in the UK. Meanwhile in the US, which never pursued "elimination", the Financial Times reported a few days ago, "US economy gained 431,000 jobs in March as tight labour market persists. Unemployment rate falls to 3.6% in latest data suggesting Fed will intervene to prevent overheating".

In his BMJ article, Professor Baker writes, "the effect on GDP, based on IMF projections for all of 2020, was more favorable for countries with elimination goals than for those with suppression goals". What? The idea "elimination goals" - which would involve, right now, a return to a Level 4 lockdown that could carry on indefinitely - is so outlandish, so obviously devastating to our economy, that it is not being remotely considered, by anyone. Closing borders & locking down again would precipitate an economic calamity in NZ, not to mention risk a revolt & societal collapse.

As for the medium to long-run economic effects of our Covid policies, they still remain to be seen. Our closed borders have alienated our ex-pat community. Many of my students tell me they can't wait to leave NZ. This is their THIRD year of studies on Zoom - the WHOLE DEGREE. Yes, University classes are STILL on Zoom. It has had a devastating effect. Schools went back but most tertiary students haven't properly returned to campus since early 2020.

Our tourism & hospitality industries have been flattened. Supply chain problems and inability to hire from abroad has led to abject dysfunction in our goods & labour markets. Inflation has gone berserk. House prices are off the charts. The cost-of-living is sky-rocketing.

So my question is: how can Professor Baker declare NZ's virus response one of the "most successful" in the world in the sense that it has "protected our economy". I'm happy to declare it a success on medical grounds and defer to others on those matters. As for the claims our virus response has led to "relative" economic "success", I don't see evidence.



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