Jane Clifton: Vaccine resistance not the only festering mood

COMMENT:

Somewhere in the annals of the bureaucracy, shielded from Official Information Act requests, there is almost certainly a health-policy document entitled “Codeword: Squirrel!”
A cynic might suspect the Government’s recent decision to confer the authority
to fluoridate water upon the Director-General of Health, taking it away from local councils, is intended as a diversion. Get anti-vaxxers’ eyeballs to swivel away from the Covid vaccine programme, even for a bit, and they’ll have less time to prey on the vaccine-hesitant.
Let’s hope the cynic is right and the tactic succeeds.

Notwithstanding the temporary burst of joy at finally having a travel bubble, these are times of dangerous psychological crosscurrents. Vaccine resistance is not the only festering mood. Those rushing to book tickets to Australia would be surprised to learn how strongly even the trans-­Tasman bubble is resented. Some polling suggests more people oppose it than support it, which is why the Government has been so chary of it.
Our successful Covid management has created a new spring of insularity, fuelled not only by fear of Covid, but also by a spirit of “I’m all right, Jack”. Daily reports of blameless, heartbroken cafe owners closing up and empty tourist facilities laying off staff count for little with some Kiwis, who’ve had a relatively comfortable lockdown and are happy to soldier on without overseas travel.

That the country hasn’t yet sunk to its knees for lack of overseas visitors is being processed as great news; that the hospitality sector is devastated only appeals to the Calvinist in some people. They reason we don’t need all this frivolity, and we shouldn’t be letting in foreigners who may be diseased. That Australians are no more likely to be infected than New Zealanders is lost in this mood, because people know more borders will open soonish. There’s a false sense of security that, since our exports have continued and dairy’s humming, we can manage indefinitely with closed borders.

This mood meshes cosily with the other dangerous smugness-anxiety hybrid: vaccine resistance.

The country now faces an ugly possibility that the vaccine campaign will be repurposed by minority agendas. People’s anxiety is understandable, given how desperately quickly the various pharmaceuticals have been devised. Questions over various brands’ efficacy and the incidence of side effects are unsettling, but have been overdramatised by politicians to further other agendas – notably in the squabbling European Union – and by those with pseudoscientific bees in their bonnets.

Malign advocacy

Polling suggests most New Zealanders will roll their sleeves up gratefully. But refuseniks represent troubling new political territory. Anti-vaccination zealots scent a potential new catchment, particularly among Māori and Pasifika, and will be avid to portray the vaccine drive as a usurpation of cultural agency.

The possibility of vaccine passports delivers nasty pinscher power to this malign advocacy. No jab will almost certainly mean fewer freedoms, chiefly reduced access to other countries. Unvaccinated people might also be barred from certain workplaces. If proportionately fewer Māori and Pasifika accept the vaccine, the resultant “second-class citizen” rhetoric could become politically powerful, despite its inanity.

Overseas, there’s an even uglier stream-of-semiconsciousness developing, which, hopefully, we can avert with the shield of common sense. It’s Covid denialism, which is now being reported in quite respectable newspapers as a mainstream opinion.

At Easter, Britain’s Daily Telegraph published a report alleging the Government “deliberately overstated” the risks from Covid, and used “covert psychological strategies” to manipulate people into needlessly fearful compliance. It quoted mental-health professionals as saying officials knowingly put Britons’ mental health in peril by lying to them.

Other bonkers conspiracy theories are happily buddying up with this viewpoint, the most alluring being that the powers-that-be are deliberately overstating risk and prolonging emergency measures because they want to keep control over the population.

What they want to use this control for is subject to divergent views of escalating bonkers-ness. But it’s increasingly popular to alight on the World Economic Forum’s “Great Reset” concord from last year’s summit. This well-meant but unfortunately titled agreement was an attempt by countries to jointly figure out ways to emerge from the pandemic in more sustainable and equitable shape.

Sounds harmless, right? But Prince Charles used the summit to launch his “Sustainable Markets Initiative”, so he and his shape-shifting lizard family are in on it, for sure.
It’s funny that conspiracy theorists never stop to ponder how embarrassingly unsuccessful these evil elites, such as Charles, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and their alien overlords, have always been at subjugating the masses. World Economic Forum accords have less measurable influence on the populace than the random opinions of taxi drivers.

Enforced pause

Although a Great Reset can be made to sound like something Adolf Hitler might have conceived, it’s an idea innocently alive in most households. Having been through the Covid scare, people are re-evaluating what’s important. It’s surely one of the positives to flow from the pandemic, this urge to try to use the enforced pause to improve the way we live.

Alas, in the hands of a pandemi-spiracist, the reset drive becomes a cunning elite using Covid – or even inventing it – as a way of subduing us all to a neo-Stalinist world order, probably in the name of climate-change mitigation.

The idea that climate-change activism freights a megalomaniacal hard-left ideology has been popular for a couple of decades, but Covid paranoia has given it new legs for the anxious, confused and gullible. This, in turn, helps account for the rise of nationalist politicians overseas.

Amazingly, very few of these histrionics are getting oxygen here. Even the early suspicion that authorities were overreacting to “just a flu” – still a common opinion in the northern hemisphere – is a debate that has failed to flower here.

For the continuance of common sense and perspective, it’s almost a shame that the Opposition caucus hasreportedly rejected leader Judith Collins’ proposal that National oppose the centralisation of fluoridation, or at least insist upon consulting with district health boards. As retrograde as this position would have been, it would have handily diverted those susceptible to pseudoscience into a pointless sideshow, leaving the air clearer for the vaccine campaign.

Collins has denied it, but her apparent willingness to play that sort of politics – despite being pro-fluoridation herself – shows how seductive it can be.

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