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Bubble brings dollars, but when do we diversify?

Saturday 25 September 2021 | Written by Supplied | Published in Opinion

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Bubble brings  dollars, but when  do we diversify?
Passengers boarding Air New Zealand flight when New Zealand and Cook Islands began a quarantine-free travel bubble on May 17. RYAN ANDERSON/STUFF/21092442

What’s clear globally is that we will never eliminate Covid-19, instead we must learn ways to manage it, reduce its harm, and to protect our people as much as we prepare our people for living with it, writes Thomas Tarurongo Wynne.

Regardless of fame or fortune, rags or riches, life will throw at us seasons of success and failure, heartache and triumph, deep learnings and even deeper joys.

In fact, daily, we are confronted by what we can change and how we can be better, do better, connect better and live better with ourselves, our faith, and our fellow man.

And we all will face seasons where we have to accept those things we can’t change and which instead we must learn to live with.

Somewhere in those deep and personal challenges we search for courage to change, patience for what we must accept will not (change), and the critical wisdom to know the difference.

Some call this serendipity and it is a familiar quote, but the depth of what these words ask for is more critical now in a Covid world than ever before.

Especially for governments globally and locally as they wrestle with the uncertainty this brings, the need for courage and the wisdom to know what we can do as a country and what we cannot. And a wisdom in which lives, economies, businesses and people’s health is relying on.

In a country whose economy is still dominated by tourism, tourist operator demands and the tourist dollar, their request for a review of the country’s border strategy makes sense when one considers the opening of American borders to tourists. In our backyard, Samoa Tourism has announced its near 70 per cent vaccinated and though they can’t yet match our 97 per cent vaccination rate, it’s clear that vaccination is seen as the golden ticket to open borders again and resume life again, albeit life post Covid-19.

There is a sense that elimination strategies have changed to management strategies and the wording is important because one talks of something being gone and the other being present, but we have learned to live with it.

What’s clear globally is that we will never eliminate Covid-19, instead we must learn ways to manage it, reduce its harm, and to protect our people as much as we prepare our people for living with it.

For countries in the Pacific like the Cook Islands, having never lived with Covid-19, this is still very much the unknown and yet if we look to the rest of the world what is clear is that sooner or later we will have to learn to live with it, either by circumstance or by choice – if we are to ever get back to any sort of normality and not yo-yo in and out of closed and open borders.

The borders have very much been dictated by New Zealand’s response to Covid-19 and a response that is also looking to vaccination as the way to return to normality – it’s about living with Covid-19 and not imagining a world without it.

And as long as the Cook Islands’ economy is completely saddled to tourism – a sector that is wholly reliant on borders being open – living with Covid-19 will remain for us a challenge.

Interestingly the Chamber of Commerce chief executive in a statement last month said government’s current focus should be centred on assisting the tourism rebound.

With regard to any consideration for diversifying the economy, the Chamber chief executive said: “I think medium to long term is a reasonable timeframe to focus on diversifying the economy in general,” adding, “It is important, however the priority must be in re-generating income from the heavily invested tourism industry in the first instance.”

The Chamber’s position is clear, tourism must remain and must be our country’s first focus.

New Zealand has taken a more immediate approach to diversity and does not see this as something mid to long-term with Amazon announcing this week that it will spend $7.5 billion building a cluster of huge data centres in Auckland, due to open in 2024.

The tech giant told the New Zealand Herald that the Amazon Web Services build will create 1000 jobs and add $10.8 billion to New Zealand’s gross domestic product (GDP) over a decade and a half.

This is a critical decision when we remember that the New Zealand economy’s largest earner prior to Covid-19 was tourism, and not dairy, and yet there is a hunger for courageous decisions based on what they can change, despite what they know they can’t, and moving past that.

If we think the local Chamber of Commerce is right and that we must focus on tourism and that alone for now, we should also take into account that many of their members have built businesses on the tourist sector and they are doing their job advocating for their sector.

Nonetheless, I ask again, when do we have the courage to change, what do we accept we cannot, and where do we find the wisdom to decide which road we as a country we must choose?

Fortunately wisdom is something we can ask and pray for. What that depends on however, is ears to hear and listen, and hearts with the courage to do the courageous.