OPINION: The story of this lockdown is best told with two statistics.

The first: in the month lockdown started house prices rose by 5.2 per cent.

The second: 5550 people have gone on the unemployment benefit since the last pre-pandemic Jobseeker numbers were released.

I guess by now we know there is nothing really stopping property prices from ever heading in the opposite direction, even during a global pandemic.

Auckland is under lockdown, but are its most vulnerable being cared for this time around?
Auckland is under lockdown, but are its most vulnerable being cared for this time around?

The Jobseeker numbers, though, were heading down right before the pandemic, and for months we’ve been hearing non-stop complaints about skills shortages.

In this context the numbers puzzle Infometrics economist Brad Olsen because right before the pandemic everybody was complaining about how difficult it was to hire people, and now they have just let their employees go.

“There are obviously, still, a bunch of precarious firms who are struggling.”

Then again, there are a lot of questions not directly-related to the outbreak that are curious.

Like the fact that this time there seems to have been no real push to give the homeless any form of housing.

One guy is holed up in a cave, which seems to be a new low as far as the country’s housing crisis goes, but you don’t have to go all the way out to the Bay of Plenty to see the old philosophy of putting a roof over everybody’s head doesn’t seem to be the name of the game for the team of 5 million any more.

For starters, there are plenty of people in sleeping bags out on Queen St at all hours, and nobody seems to be making much of an attempt to ask them if they would rather not be.

Then there are other stories you hear of the kind of people who could be on the cusp of joining that 7000 number, except their employer has taken the wage subsidy.

So, because they can’t fire you, the employer proposes you do not need to work the hours you once did because the country has gone into lockdown.

Instead, they will “restructure” things, cut your hours until your wages come down to an amount which equals the wage subsidy.

That means the business actually comes out better off than pre-lockdown. It is still earning money (after all, you are still working some hours for them, so they must be getting something out of it), but the Government has just picked up the entire wage bill.

An employee has to agree to this, which would be a tall order in a non-lockdown situation. In a tight pre-lockdown labour market you could just hop over to the next employer.

However, under lockdown every employer is cautious about hiring new people, and as the weeks keep stretching out, and people look across the Tasman to the ever-lengthening lockdowns over there, they begin to feel even more justified in that caution.

So during a time of uncertainty an employee often chooses to stay where they are and take the pay cut. I know of one person in a similar position to this who has effectively taken a 40 per cent reduction.

Some employees think some money is better than no money, and who can blame them when none of the other pandemic safety nets, like restrictions around rent rises, are coming into play this time around?

Of course every time you write one of these columns about the response to the pandemic, even if it is about the economic response, you inevitably have people ask if you have talked to anybody in Melbourne or another city under lockdown overseas recently.

Brad Olsen says Jobseeker numbers like these seem to show there are still plenty of firms in a precarious financial state out there.
Brad Olsen says Jobseeker numbers like these seem to show there are still plenty of firms in a precarious financial state out there.


True, it is probably far worse to be a New Zealander in one of those countries right now. Not only do you face a greater risk of catching Covid-19, you also are not able to escape back to New Zealand to see your friends and family since managed isolation and quarantine bookings were frozen as part of the pandemic response too (not that they were functioning particularly smoothly beforehand).

If that isn’t bad enough, imagine being stuck in a foreign country, unable to book a managed isolation slot, and then getting slandered by Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins as some sort of reckless Covid-spreading holidaymaker?

That, would be truly awful.

It is fair to say there is a lot more discontent this lockdown. Not because people do not believe lockdown is the right thing to do, but because they are desperately looking for a sign that it might end.

And we are not giving the most vulnerable in our community much of a reason to buy into our response, beyond the threat of Covid-19 which they may, or may not, view as a more pressing concern than making sure they have a roof over their head.

So far, with those mystery cases, the signs are not looking so good for the early exit some hoped for. People are looking to countries opening up overseas to see how it could be done differently. Anything, to get back to a world where they feel they will have more options.

Managed isolation bookings have been closed off as part of the response to the Delta outbreak.
Managed isolation bookings have been closed off as part of the response to the Delta outbreak.


One example spoken about is Singapore, and how a relatively well-connected country has managed to keep operating while surrounded by multiple countries suffering from major outbreaks.

I think the lesson worth taking from Singapore is a different one. Early on in the pandemic Singapore conquered the virus, but then had a major outbreak which saw it go from near-zero Covid-19 cases to having the highest number in Southeast Asia.

Covid-19 had taken hold within the country’s migrant worker dormitories, people whose living conditions had gone unexplored and unaddressed.

Its workers had been living in crowded conditions which nobody paid much attention to, then cases surged to over 1000 a day, and it was too late.

New Zealand needs to re-learn the lesson that looking after the whole team of 5 million is not just a question of political priorities, it can often make good health sense too.
From the big moments in the boardroom to the little questions on your credit card, the Stuff business team keeps you across what’s happening in our economy and how it affects you. We help small businesses prosper, we analyse the stock market, we challenge experts on the housing crisis, and we explain finances for everyday Kiwis.