Opinion

Rachel Smalley: COVID 'advice' should not be fear-mongering

OPINION

It’s taken a BIT of time for the Government to reveal how it’s going to respond to this significant new wave of COVID.

Today, we're told, we’ll find out. Minister Ayesha Verrall will reveal all this afternoon.

Some of it has been leaked already. There will be free masks and more RAT tests made available. Yes, free masks and more RATs.

And that's not a surprise because just over two weeks ago, Stuff reported that storage facilities and warehouses all over New Zealand were full of RAT tests.

The Government has spent more than $1 billion on procuring 182 million RATs. That’s around 36 tests for every man, woman and child. 

So now they'll make more of those RATs available so we can test ourselves and find out if we do or don’t have Covid, and some of us will get free masks as well. 

I hope there is more in this announcement. Otherwise, there are some very well-paid bureaucrats and consultants out there who’ve spent a couple of weeks coming up with a plan to get more RATs out of the warehouse and offer some people some masks for free. 

Late last night, I saw a report on this issue -- it quoted Professor Michael Baker.

And, I just want to say, when I read that report, it reminded me why, where possible, we no longer speak to Kiwis academics on the issue of COVID on this programme. We talk to the Australians and the Americans because they provide us with facts and information that we can use and understand. Last week, you may have heard that we interviewed Australia’s leading and most trusted epidemiologist, Catherine Bennett, and she was great – clear, calm, and factual. She dissected this latest wave for us. Similar to what's going on in Australia, she talked us through the variants and our immune response to them. 

And earlier in the programme this morning, you may have heard my interview with Larrisa Thackray, a professor from the Division of Infectious Diseases, at Washington University School of Medicine.  She's across the next generation vaccine, the Omicron-specific vaccine which is what we need in New Zealand. 

And we're looking offshore for guidance because I'm not prepared to listen to the so-called experts here who are fear-mongering or give some of these academics a platform. 

Last night, I couldn't believe what I was reading when I saw Professor Michael Baker quoted on Stuff. 

He said isolation remained crucial and anyone unwell needed to stay home. Fair point. That’s what we're doing. 

He also said we needed to re-introduce the mask mandate in schools, but where he truly lost his mind was when he said this. 

Professor Baker said....and I quote....

“Going out while unwell is just like driving drunk.

“You are going to kill people."

Now that commentary is harmful. Really harmful. It is fuelling fear. And it is one of the reasons why I'm having conversations with other parents about their children suffering from anxiety. They're talking about panicked kids who are constantly asking for RAT tests because they fear they will get the virus and pass it on to their friends or those they love, and it will kill them. 

How is it that we're giving airtime to academics who are using such violent and reckless language? 

Please, just stop it. Provide advice if you must but check your language, check the way you are communicating. And if you’re in the media and you insist on talking to academics like Professor Michael Baker, then that’s on you. But recognise that printing commentary like this doesn't help people -- it hurts them. It hurts some of our most vulnerable. 

We need to provide information and clear advice. And not provide free platforms to people who are using fear as a form of social control.