Reframing New Zealand’s Biosecurity Conversation Post-Covid-19: An Argument for Integrating Interspecies Concerns

Author: McDonald, D. A.
Published in National Security Journal, 24 August 2020

Concluding remarks

T‍he social and economic fallout from New Zealand’s nationwide lockdown and other countries’ border and biosecurity responses is still being realised in the context of an ongoing global pandemic. It is clear that New Zealand’s biological security must now be understood in the context of human health, border closures and supply-chain insecurities. We have seen for the first time in many generations the direct relationship between global health and the global economy, and there are many questions and issues arising for debate and resolution post-pandemic.

This article opened with a reference to the Security System Handbook, which express­ly refers to biosecurity incursions and pandemics as matters of national security, but which appears to treat them as separate security categories. Yet, there is too much over­lap in a more than social world to treat them separately. Zoonotic diseases capable of reaching pandemic proportions pose an ever-present threat to national security, and COVID-19’s impact on New Zealand can be seen particularly starkly in another ob­jective set out in the Security System Handbook: “[s]ustaining economic prosperity.”109

It remains to be seen how New Zealand’s public health and biosecurity systems will cope with another global zoonotic disease outbreak. This time around we are climbing a steep learning curve involving the biosecurity management of humans. Next time, we may need to apply that learning to, for example – a localised outbreak of dengue fever in Auckland or malaria in the Hokianga. From insects to animals and humans, biosecurity is concerned with the management of emerging life, and the goal is biological security in all of the ways that matter in human societies.

Castree et al. (2020) argue that there are critical normative questions arising from COVID-19 about global inequities in poverty and human health, food safety and wild food sources, the preparedness of public health systems and the ease with which the (comparatively) wealthy travel around the world.110 Closer to home, a key issue is how New Zealand will continue to ensure safe and sanitary exports of animal products in a world where the word ‘zoonotic’ has become a common (and frightening) term. What about immigration decision-making? Perhaps the term ‘belonging’ will take on a new meaning framed by epidemiological concerns. There could certainly be unforeseen environmental benefits in the current decline of people movements globally, and some are even being seen in the short to medium-term.111 There will be biosecurity opportunities in this ongoing crisis, too, and normatively speaking we should take advantage of them.112 The overarching question for New Zealand is how our biosecurity story can integrate the goal of human health as it evolves to meet the future challenges inherent in a world that has always been and will always be more than social.