Is it time for hope? (Image: Toby Morris/Tina Tiller)

Covid-19 has changed New Zealand forever. The experts explain how: part two

Some of the smartest people in the country examine the effects of the pandemic on Aotearoa’s future in 400 words or fewer. Read part one here. 

Beyond the horrific global death toll and the economic shutdowns, there is hope that Covid-19 will allow us to build a better society in the future. While much of the rest of the world continues to suffocate beneath Covid-19’s relentless waves, New Zealand now has a chance to start to learn from the lessons of the pandemic. 

While the hospitality sector is on the front lines of the economic fallout, is this a chance to create a better model for the industry? Can the newfound collective compassion created by the shared experience of the lockdowns provide a framework for addressing child poverty? Will Māori self-determination mean more equitable outcomes in the health system? 

The Spinoff sought insight from 20 experts on the way their field will emerge from Covid-19. Originally 6,500 words, we’ve split the piece in two. Part two follows; read part one here

Laura Bond: Covid’s compassion and commonsense can unlock child poverty 

When the first lockdown hit, unlike many, I was upbeat and optimistic about what the Covid-19 pandemic would mean for Aotearoa. There were teddy bears in windows, the Student Volunteer Army was phoning the elderly, homeless people were given beds, and volunteers turned up in droves to prepare food for the hungry. It was buoying to see and a chance to draw on what we truly value; and for our team of five million it was abundantly clear that was community, kindness and care for all. 

Our government sprung into action, introducing the Covid income relief payment to the newly unemployed, additional mental health support and laptops to some school students. It wasn’t perfect, but this swift action prevented many tens of thousands of households from being plunged into poverty almost overnight. 

It also highlighted how current income support levels – set much lower than the income relief payment – are unliveable. We’ve had decades of low wage growth and high housing costs in Aotearoa. At the same time, successive governments have underinvested in critical services that benefit children from the lowest-income families, like public housing, healthcare and income support, and have neglected the crucial value of unpaid work like parenting itself. 

We’ve shown ourselves to be a nation that can pull together for some of its most vulnerable. I’m optimistic this can continue in our post-Covid future, but not without urgent action to lift one of the biggest constraints on families and children in poverty: not having enough money to thrive.  

We need the same compassionate yet commonsense approach used to form the Covid-19 income relief payment to be applied to long-term income support. This will ensure everyone – whether they are working, caring, learning, living with an illness or disability, or have lost their jobs before or because of Covid-19 – can access a liveable income, and all children regardless of their circumstances have the chance to thrive.  

Laura Bond is the executive director of the Child Poverty Action Group. 

Wage subsidy vs income support (Image: Toby Morris)

Generation Zero: What even is normal?

We’re experiencing a harsh reminder that “normal” is a precarious state of balance, fraught with systemic issues, that can very easily be thrown out of whack.

By exposing the fragility of the ordinary, Covid-19 has made it clear that wishful thinking is not a viable strategy to manage systemic risk. Feels familiar? Ignoring experts’ warnings about the danger of climate change is a similar wishful-thinking trap.

But perhaps Aotearoa’s collective response to Covid-19 is reason for hope. Led by our government, we chose to listen to scientific advice, change our behaviour, and manage the crisis in front of us. The key word there is led – we’ve learnt that we’re capable of collective action, but we need strong government leadership to bring out our hidden potential.

Government leadership is not negotiable if we’re going to channel our collective capacity into climate action. We have been reminded that government can be a positive influence in our lives. Just as young people are increasingly demanding corporations take leadership on social issues, we will increasingly demand our political leaders offer more than the status quo. Don’t disappoint us.

Eleanor West, Bruce Kidd and Elliott Hughes on behalf of Generation Zero

Emma Espiner: Māori health sovereignty can’t wait

Māori have suffered the indignity of being perceived as deficient when it comes to health. Research has focused on an absence of goodness rather than an abundance of strength, and there has been little confidence shown by our institutions and legislators about our ability to rescue ourselves. The urgent threat of Covid-19 changed all of that. Hapū and iwi didn’t wait to ask for permission to protect our valuable whānau; we applied best-practice epidemiological science alongside tikanga and – with limited resources and a slow start from the government in communicating effectively to whānau – kept the virus out of our communities.

It wasn’t just the community checkpoints; it was the food parcels to kaumātua and kuia, the hygiene care packages delivered to households, it was the policing of our own neighbourhoods to make sure the vulnerable were cared for, and that social distancing kept the virus out but didn’t isolate us from one another. 

What does Covid-19 mean for the future of Māori health? It means we’re impatient. We’ve seen how the government can mobilise in extreme circumstances against a deadly threat. We noted the success of tikanga-based interventions in tandem with the best evidence-based empirical science. We will not buy delays in equity, because we have seen how the state can act when it perceives that the majority of citizens are under threat. We expect the same energy to be turned towards the extreme, unjust inequities disproportionately borne by whānau Māori. A failure to act, or excuses that hide behind resourcing or capacity issues, will not be tolerated.

Emma Espiner is a trainee doctor and comments on social issues, equity, health, and politics. She is the host of podcast Getting Better: A Year in the Life of a Māori Medical Student.

Ngāti Ruanui iwi leader and Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer at a checkpoint in Patea, Taranaki, in May 2020 (Photo: Supplied)

Carolyn Luey: The future of retail is virtual 

Covid-19 has seen shoppers flock to online stores to buy the items they want and need remotely. While there is still a need for physical retail stores, particularly when customers have an urgent problem to solve such as replacing a broken phone, the future of retail is sure to include enhanced experiences that bring that human touch to the online engagement.

At Vodafone we’ve already been trialling this throughout Aotearoa via our “local virtual stores”, where customers can connect with a retail agent that lives and works in their area, providing that local knowledge on top of the technical help. 

Technologies such as 5G bring the ability to integrate high-tech tools into the shopping experience, bringing the showroom to you. Virtual reality (VR) will enable customers to enjoy their shopping experience wherever they may be – and extend online shopping so that people can experience the products, and not just see them in 2D.

Within stores, VR and augmented reality will help to enhance product knowledge and information. By scanning a product, customers could get access to a whole raft of information that might have taken a while to find – details like product reviews, additional specifications, or the ability to compare one item with another from a competing shop.

We’re already seeing paint brands and furniture shops adopt this in a home furnishings setting – and fashion brands with clothing. But there’s lots more to come. Whether you’re in a physical or online store, virtual reality and augmented reality, along with other upcoming technologies, are set to enhance the shopping experience.

Carolyn Luey is the consumer director at Vodafone NZ and a director of Vodafone Retail, a joint venture with Millennium Corp.

Shamubeel Eaqub: Groping towards a new narrative 

The great depression and world wars brought on social democracy and large government. Currency crisis (failure of the gold standard), oil shocks and stagflation (high inflation and high unemployment, which was not thought possible) brought neoliberalism and the delegation of economic management to independent central banks. 

In the pandemic the government is back driving the economy, and the central bank is a spent force. It was largely spent by the recession a decade ago. There are growing conversations about this: do we even need to pay back debt when interest rates are so low and central banks can just print more? What should we spend on, why and how? 

Around the world, the rise of populism and the backlash against globalisation and experts have their roots in the failure of several key ingredients necessary for stable democracies – increasing and shared prosperity. 

The future will not have the kind of neat organised consensus that shaped recent decades (albeit with many tensions, including the Cold War era). Instead, we are living through regime change. 

That new regime or narrative has not been written yet. We can choose our narrative. The lessons from the pandemic so far are that we should know our value, be informed about the issues that face us, and find a broad consensus for collective and thus enduring response. The world will be more fragmented. We will need to choose our own path, form our own club of other like-minded countries, and find ways to rub along with those who choose a different path. 

Shamubeel Eaqub is an independent economist and commentator

Stephen Lethbridge: It takes a village to educate a child

Covid-19 reinforced to those in education the need to have parents and caregivers walking alongside them in their child’s learning journey. Schools need to get better at communicating to whānau what effective learning looks like today. Parents need to understand that “busy work” is a thing of the past: learning is purposeful, active and relevant to the students we serve.

Covid-19 clearly exposed the inequity that exists in our system. Moving in and out of remote learning showed the digital divide existed not only in access to devices, but also in access to the internet. In an age of future-focused learning this is something that we need to address quickly. The Ministry of Education tried valiantly to address it during the first lockdown, but what became apparent was the scale of the issue. This is an easy fix – it just costs money! We should ensure that every child has both access to their own device and a stable internet connection at home.

Independent, resilient and agentic learners thrive under these conditions. These are the traits that we must foster. The ability to “know what to do when you don’t know what to do” is a key factor in success. Being literate and numerate is crucial but not enough. Our challenge is to ensure all our learners build their capacity in these areas. We must ensure that we grow students who are capable of self-management – and the best way to do this is to allow our students to have a say in what, how and when they tackle their learning.

Our education workforce has shown that they can learn new skills at the drop of a hat. This highlights that everyone has the capacity to change their approach when they have to. Moving forward, schools need to build on the newfound technological skills their staff have acquired and make sure that all New Zealand’s students are equipped to embrace that learning.

Stephen Lethbridge is the principal at Point Chevalier School

A bond created in lockdown (Illustration: Toby Morris)

Courtney Johnston: Museums for the future 

In March this year, during that first wave when we were trying to make sense of the pandemic, museum professionals flocked to speculate about the museum experience of the future. Would temperature scanning at the museum door become as common as body scanning in airports? Would we redesign touch-screen interactives to be operated by foot? Would disruption to global freight lines spell the end of the international blockbuster exhibition?

Then there was speculation about the museum visitor of the future. Would people rush back into museums seeking social connection, or would anxiety keep them away? Was this the true dawn of the digital museum age, a full pivot to performance art via live streaming and gallery tours via VR? Would we be supporting communities who were grieving widespread trauma and loss, or filling a deep desire for optimism and escapism?

Now we’re in October and speculation is settling into action. American museums are reopening, with temperature testing before entrance. Artists and performers shuffle, reshuffle, re-reshuffle their schedules around visas and venues. Our visitor research shows people flock under level one, and they stay away under level two. Physical visitors want to get out of their houses, want places for kids to safely roam, want to be social again. Online visitors search our collections for objects and taonga that support their school work, their creative practice, their research into whakapapa and whenua. We’re learning and adapting every day. This pandemic will make us better museums.

However, the best outcome of the vast disruption of the coronavirus pandemic won’t be an accumulation of little adaptations. It would be a sea change in the way museums are perceived and used, a fulfilment of a decades-long change that’s been quietly taking place. Museums are already trusted to tell us about our histories: to deepen our understanding of how we have come to the point we find ourselves at. The change that lies within our reach is to push this trust into the future: to become places (physical and digital) where people come to collectively build a picture of the future that we want to live in. Whether it’s coronavirus, climate change or decolonisation, the museum of the future could be just that – a place where people come together to form our futures.

I was in our exhibitions today, next to the Mauri activator – an interactive where multiple visitors place their hands on a carved plinth to bring a digital landscape to life. It’s a physical manifestation of how, if we all work together, all put our hands into the mahi, we can nurture the mauri of our natural environment. There were three people on it, all wearing masks, all touching it. We’re all feeling our way into the future.

Courtney Johnston is the tumu whakarae/chief executive of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa 

Robin Gauld: Investing in healthcare to grow the economy and treat patients well

Healthcare spending has often been seen as a financial drain rather than an investment in economic and social development. Governments in New Zealand traditionally seek to constrain healthcare expenditure below the point at which demand can be met. DHBs and public health services have largely borne the brunt of this. As a result, the systems in place tend to be far from ideal. Most patients who have had firsthand contact with the healthcare system would be quick to say that the professionals they saw gave them first-rate service – no question about that. It’s the system surrounding professionals and patients that has let them all down. It is disorganised and the supporting infrastructure terribly outdated. It’s the same with public health. The director-general of health recently announced that DHBs need to prioritise spending on IT systems, as the many shortcomings have been starkly revealed through the Covid-19 pandemic. 

No country organises healthcare well. Imagine if New Zealand became a laboratory for piloting and building technology that enabled a world-class healthcare system that supported our excellent health professionals and, of course, our public. Imagine if we became, like many things in New Zealand, a beacon that others around the world looked to with great envy, and sought to purchase our intellectual property. Imagine being able to schedule all of your healthcare appointments and see what’s going on in the health system on your phone. Imagine being able to track your progress through the health system, knowing also that data needed for pandemic response were easily accessible. 

We need politicians, health professionals, managers and industry to own the challenge of investing in healthcare IT and infrastructure to reinforce and grow our economy. We need them to treat the public as central to everything they do and build IT and the health system around their needs. Air New Zealand does this with its app. It’s all possible, but it requires investment and will.

Professor Robin Gauld is pro-vice-chancellor of commerce, dean of Otago Business School and co-director of the Centre for Health Systems and Technology at the University of Otago

Health workers take part in ICU training for Covid-19 at Hutt Hospital (Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas)

Sophie Gilmour: Less is more

The hospitality industry’s status quo wasn’t sustainable. It was stagnant, stressful, seriously broken. Dignity had dissipated as the industry clung to its glory days. Food costs climbed, rents rose, compliance had become overwhelming. Marketing and technology costs moved in for good. We were bending over backwards but falling flat on our faces. 

Then a global pandemic kicked us while we were already down, and we were forced into some overdue blue sky thinking. Beautiful grocery boxes, home kits, online cooking classes, and clever collaborations are an early signal that the desperate measures that come out of this desperate time will whip the industry into better shape.

We spoke to our customers during the first lockdown and they spoke to us. Customers got to know the real people behind the cafes and restaurants they frequent. We put names to the faces of customers that show up every single week. We saw the benefit of that reconnection when we were allowed to reopen – hospitality heaved! 

In my crystal ball we will have fewer venues. They charge a little more, but their teams are paid decently for the important work they do and margins aren’t as tight. Customers value the experience, not just the product – and they are willing to pay for it. Regeneration is on the radar and composting is compulsory. Quality is valued, and quantity at the expense of it shunned. Hospitality can be happy once more.

Sophie Gilmour is a hospitality consultant for Delicious Business, co-founder of Bird On a Wire and part-owner of Fatima’s.

Troy Baisden: Workable solutions to global problems, guided by science

People are getting the message that global problems, from pandemics to climate change, are real and affect nearly everything they care about. They know the causes are simple, but the solutions are not. The speed and shock of Covid-19 shows how much it matters.

Following Covid-19, there’s a reasonable case that people will seek to purposefully change society’s relationship with the economy, environment and governance. Following the example of the global School Strike 4 Climate, people want sense and action, rather than Byzantine bureaucracy. This will call existing multi-headed power structures into question, and presumably replace them with more direct authority – as we see with the creation of the Climate Change Commission.

To understand the need for change, we can apply two tests. In the first, we can ask whether the flows of information, labour, goods and services work for investment and governance. In the second, we can ask whether existing institutions appear shaky, already teetering on tipping points.

To see what this looks like, we can compare climate change with freshwater. We now have a Climate Change Commission, which creates a single path for developing climate policy and should help develop stability in the Emissions Trading Scheme and improve responses to climate impacts. In contrast, the case for freshwater reform is driven by the values of voters and international consumers, yet the minister for the environment has declared taxes won’t pay farmers to change. And after multi-headed advisory groups yielded only partial solutions, focus now points to legislative reform, which might question the roles of central and local government.

We are lucky to have a clear path ahead on climate change, and to have institutions that managed the pandemic as well as any nation, but we can expect challenges in many areas like water and health, where the two tests show a need to realign institutions.

Our successes may signal what’s likely to work as the pandemic’s aftermath accelerates global reorganisation, and a key element is science. Unlike institutions or economies, science defines realities of how nature works. From successful pandemic responses to the Climate Change Commission, science has framed workable solutions.

Greta Thunberg says, “Listen to the scientists.” Post-pandemic change may leave us with institutions that are better coupled to reality, and able to be guided by science.

Professor Troy Baisden is an investigator in Te Pūnaha Matatini, on networks and complexity

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