Word of the day


Bobbery – a mixed pack of hunting dogs , often not belonging to any of the hound breeds; a noisy commotion; a  hubbub.

Sowell says


Winston Churchill’s wisdom


Missed opportunity to learn


Yet another damning report on the Covid response:

A backlog in Covid-19 PCR testing which led to the country’s systems falling over should have been predicted and prevented by health officials, an independent review has concluded.

Poor communication, data limitations and a failure to learn from international experiences instead led to complacency and meant the country’s laboratories buckled under the strain of requests.

In March, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield admitted the ministry had overestimated the number of Covid-19 PCR tests the country’s laboratories could process as the virus took off in the community.

The revelation came as Kiwis waited upwards of a week for test results and health experts warned of laboratories reaching a crisis point, while months earlier one of the Government’s own groups had raised red flags.

An independent review commissioned by the Ministry of Health and carried out by consultancy Allen and Clarke has now been released, laying bare the failures which led to the crash. . . 

With other countries having similarly faced difficulties with PCR testing in the face of Omicron, opportunities to learn from international experience were “substantial”.

“It is not apparent how these insights were incorporated into testing modelling, planning, or reporting.” . . 

The Ministry, and the Ministers, let us down again because the backlog was predictable:

A report out today shows the backlog of PCR testing was foreseeable and Ministers should take responsibility for a lack of action, National’s Covid-19 Spokesperson Chris Bishop says.

“In the first quarter of this year, 9000 PCR COVID tests were sent to Australia and 32,000 samples were nearly destroyed after laboratories in New Zealand were unable to cope with the demand.

“Today’s COVID-19 PCR Testing Backlog report, which has finally been released by the Government, says the backlog in PCR testing that emerged in February 2022 ‘should have been and was to some degree predictable.’

“The Ministry of Health has been found wanting at critical times during the pandemic.

“Last year, Sir Brian Roche’s Continuous Improvement Group made repeated recommendations to improve the functionality of the Ministry, while the Testing Technical Advisory Group also made a series of recommendations around testing capacity.

That report, and others, changed nothing, and there is little if any hope that the extensive and expensive restructuring of the health system would make it any better.

“In the first quarter of this year Omicron was already prevalent in other countries and as today’s report notes, ‘opportunities to learn from international experience were substantial, particularly in relation to the speed at which positivity rates increase and the impact on pooling’.

“But Ministers failed to act, instead relying on assurances from officials that New Zealand had enough testing capacity.

“A lack of testing capacity had real consequences. As the report notes, without an accurate forecast date when PCR testing capacity would be exceeded, there was no deadline for when the RAT roll-out was required. New Zealand was slow on the uptake of RATs because it was assumed PCR testing capacity would suffice. It didn’t.

“National spent most of the latter part of 2021 calling for a quick roll-out of rapid tests. It was obvious to many that once Omicron took hold in the community, PCR testing would struggle.

“Why weren’t Ministers listening to independent experts who were saying this publicly. How much better would things have been if National’s calls for rapid tests were listened to?

“National has also argued for over a year that saliva testing capacity can and should be used. Saliva testing was outside the scope of today’s report, which says it all.

“The Government has consistently and wilfully ignored the potential of saliva testing to test for COVID-19. It beggars belief that the Government excluded saliva testing from the scope of the report; presumably on the basis that the report would be even more critical than it already is. Instead of utilising saliva testing properly the Government rammed a law through Parliament giving itself the power to confiscate the assets of saliva testing companies like Rako Science.

“Two years into the pandemic, Ministers should stop blaming officials for basic errors and start taking responsibility. The buck stops with them.”

It is difficult to understand how the Ministry couldn’t accurately estimate laboratory capacity:

Those representing the country’s medical lab workforce say the Health Ministry’s estimates of lab capacity during the Omicron peak amounted to “misinformation”.  . . 

Lab scientists knew they’d be overwhelmed as Omicron took hold at the beginning of 2022. The president of the New Zealand Institute of Medical Laboratory Science, Terry Taylor, said the warning signs were well canvassed. 

“It was 100 percent predictable. We’d been warning since early January about our lab capacity and the figures that were being trumpeted around just simply were not there,” he said. 

Just like the PPE shortages, people on the frontline were saying there were problems but the Ministry, and the Ministers, were at best ignoring them, or worse still not believing them.

Those figures relate to January 25 this year, when Minister Ayesha Verrall announced we were “well prepared” for Omicron. 

Testing capacity had “increased to 58,000 tests a day”, and could surge to more than 77,000, she said.   

But official information obtained by Newshub showed no one in the Minister’s office checked the accuracy of the numbers. 

The figures were repeated over, and over. At a press conference on January 25, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also hailed New Zealand’s level of preparedness when it came to testing. 

“We can do 60,000 tests a day,” she said. 

The messaging infuriated the frontline and Taylor has a message for the politicians and their advisers.  

“Have a think about your frontline health professionals before you start making ridiculous assumptions of what their capability is,” Taylor said.

The secretary of Apex, the union that represents lab workers, Dr Deborah Powell, agrees. 

“The numbers that were being put out in public – it was misinformation and lab workers knew that. They were very upset.” . . 

This is another review that tells the same old under prepared story:

“Not so well prepared” has been a phrase that has accompanied the Government’s Covid response since it started.

That doesn’t mean totally unprepared, but several independent reviews have repeatedly described the response as reactive, not proactive.

So it was again on Tuesday with the release of an independent report into the 32,000 PCR samples that gathered dust for five days in February. This followed repeated Government claims that all was fine and there was plenty of PCR capacity to deal with demand as the Omicron wave started to build.

The report is embarrassing reading for the Health Ministry. . . 

Embarrassing for the Ministry, frustrating for the frontline workers and others whose warnings weren’t listened to, including those who had solutions:

Too little, too late.

That is what Sir Ian Taylor thinks about the Ministry of Health approving the Lucira Covid-19 test kit for use in New Zealand nearly two years after it was first approached about them.

On Wednesday, the ministry published a notice, signed by director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, in the New Zealand Gazette stating the tests, which return a result in 30 minutes with standard PCR accuracy, had been granted a full exemption for
use in New Zealand.

The kits consisted of a self-administered nasal swab that goes into a tube and is processed in a battery-powered testing device.

United States-based Lucira first approached the New Zealand Government about the tests in 2020, not long after the pandemic started.

Taylor, who had been urging the Government for months to approve them, said while it was great they had been approved, it had come far too late.

The tests could have been a “game-changer” earlier this year when the Omicron variant started to spread around the country which put “massive strain” on the testing laboratories. 

It could have also been used as a tool to wind down managed isolation and quarantine earlier than it was, Taylor said.

“While they have approved it, it’s like a lot of other things, they were late with the vaccinations, they were late with the rapid antigen tests [RATs], and they are late with this.” . . 

The Ministry, and Ministers, missed the opportunities to learn from overseas again.

S much of the Covid response wasn’t hard and early as the government kept telling us, but late and lax, again and again and again at an enormous human and financial cost.

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