Let’s get vaccinated rural NZ

16/10/2021


Spot the contradiction

15/10/2021

The government is planning for quarantine hotels to be over-run with Covid cases:

People with Covid-19 will soon be asked to quarantine at home, rather than being ushered to a managed isolation facility.

Modelling suggests Covid-19 case numbers could overwhelm managed isolation spaces, with a worst case scenario model predicting 5200 cases per week, just in the Auckland and Northland regions alone.

That modelling is based on a 90 percent vaccination rate, which those regions have not met.

At even a fraction of those rates, quarantine hotels would be full to the brim. . . 

Spot the contradiction – people known to have Covid-19 will be isolating at home but fully vaccinated people arriving from overseas who have negative tests still have to spend 14 days in MIQ.

The government has got this the wrong way round.

It would be far safer for people who are double vaccinated and have a negative Covid test before they fly in and after they arrive to self-isolate at home than people known to be infected.

It would also take a lot of the pressure of MIQ hotels.

Either way self-isolating would be safe only for some people and some homes.

The people self-isolating would have to have others who could bring them food without making contact with them.

If there were others in the house, those self-isolating would have to be able to do so separately from everyone else.

That would require bedrooms with en suite bathrooms.

Before MIQ was instituted last year people coming from overseas were left to self-isolate on trust and many didn’t.

Unless there’s electronic monitoring of everyone self-isolating the risk of people not following the rules will be high.

Even if people do everything required, if would be far less risky if those self-isolating at home were people who were double vaccinated and with negative tests than if they had the disease.


Give Us Hope

13/10/2021

This video was taken down, it’s back again, but for how long?


Time to follow Tasmania?

13/10/2021

A couple of months ago the Prime Minister was using Australia as an example of what not to do.

There is one state that is an example of what to do and that’s Tasmania which hasn’t had a case of community transmission of Covid-19 for more than a year.

The obvious advantage it has over the rest of the country is it’s separated from them by water.

The South Island is separated from the North by water too, is it time to get a much harder border at Cook Strait?

Mike Yardley says it is:

The Government has failed to tighten up the ropey Auckland boundary and the risk it poses. And there’s been no desire from Wellington to seal off the zero-Covid South so that restrictions can be loosened.

Nero would be astounded at the scale of fiddling that has torched Christchurch’s most prestigious week.

So now the South is losing its biggest party, how about a comfort blanket?

The island of 1.2 million people hasn’t clocked a Covid case in the community for 336 days. As far as we know. The wastewater testing keeps coming up negative, all over the island.

Yes, Delta will finally reach the South, but why give it an early invitation, or a helping hand?

I believe the South Island should be sealed off from the North, by way of far tougher travel restrictions for the next six weeks. Only critical workers or the critically in need should be allowed to cross the Cook Strait, pre-conditioned on being vaccinated and testing negative. . .

A Stuff editorial also asks for a harder border:

Border protections within the country need to be shored up, considerably.

The South Island needs hard-border protections against the Delta variant’s creep out of the Auckland region.

The lower North Island, too, deserves something more than the velvet rope the Government has strung up in some of the harder-to-police parts of the Auckland border,.

The shortcomings of a border strategy have been evident in the upper North Island but more can and needs to be done to staunch the virus’ progress south – at least long enough to buy valuable time for vaccination protections to be built up in the community.

Public health experts, community and business leaders have all but linked arms to call for tougher criteria for who can cross the border out of Auckland and Waikato. Otago University’s Nick Wilson describes a limiting of what qualifies as essential travel, and requiring southbound travellers to be fully vaccinated, and have a nasopharyngeal Covid test, and then a rapid test at the border.

How hard would it be to require the full vaccination and the two tests for anyone leaving?

The lower North Island is surely able to be better defended by a hard-border approach too.

This shouldn’t be seen as coming at the expense of an encircled Auckland but it far better protects the health of more southern New Zealanders, let alone regional and national economies.

Moreover, it mitigates how thinly stretched resources might be. This is not a situation where misery loves company – less stressed areas are better placed to send, for instance, medical assistance where it’s most needed.

The obvious comparison, certainly for the South Island, is Tasmania, where an enviable record during the pandemic has not simply been attributable to the fact that the community there has a giant moat.

Many of the measures will ring familiar – border closures, testing, contact tracing – and there has been real rigour to requirements on returned travellers from other more problematic parts of the Lucky Country, quite apart from international returnees.  . . 

Keith Woodford says we need a Covid reset:

. . .Leadership sometimes means admitting errors and doing a reset. I have always liked the Eisenhower quote, of which there are several versions, that ‘planning is everything but plans are nothing’.  There is no point in trying to defend the indefensible. . . 

The late and lax rollout of vaccination is indefensible.

Had more people been fully vaccinated sooner, Delta would not be such a threat.

The vaccination programme has gone up several gears, but what else could be done?

In addition to any soft borders, there need to be two hard borders, one separating off the North Island into two, with Waiouru being a key border point. There would need to be additional hard-border points on Highways 2, 3, 4 and 5, with Highway 43 also blockaded.

Cook Strait provides a superb natural border between the North and South islands. Freight would continue by air and sea. The Cook Strait ferries could use different drivers, with North Island drivers leaving their loads on the ferry at Wellington and fresh drivers picking up the load in Picton. All passenger air-transport between the islands would cease except for medical emergencies.

These two hard borders do not necessarily replace existing soft borders. Rather, they are defensible borders with prospect of being maintained.

These hard regional borders may need to remain in place even after all within-region movements are opened up. At some point regional hard-borders would be removed for those who are vaccinated, but perhaps not until considerably later for the non-vaccinated.

In contrast, softer borders protecting regions such as Rotorua and Taupo will almost certainly be bypassed. All they can do is slow down the infection rate outside of Auckland before eventually being made irrelevant. . . 

There comes a time when individuals have to take responsibility for their own welfare. Society cannot be responsible for those who will not get the vaccine. . .

The alternative of staying in Level 3 over coming weeks appears to combine the worst of all outcomes. It is now evident that exponential growth is highly likely to continue. We will indeed end up with two groups of people, these being the vaccinated and the infected, but with everyone’s lifestyle affected.

To those who say that restrictions should be removed earlier than what I have set out here, my response is to say that we have to accept that it is only now that many people are becoming eligible for their second dose.

And to those who continue to say that we cannot leave anyone behind, I say that this current commitment is counter-productive. The non-vaccinated need to understand that broader society will not tolerate being treated in this way. And that is something that the Government also needs to understand.  Either people get the vaccine or they accept the consequences. . . .

That sounds harsh, but the alternative is that once every effort has been made to reach everyone who is willing to be vaccinated, the won’t-be vaccinated are preventing more freedom for the rest of us.

The consequences for the unvaccinated might result in hospitals being overrun with Covid cases. But lockdowns also have high health costs for people whose serious illnesses go undiagnosed, or untreated.

New Zealand’s initial response to Covid-19 gained wide international praise.

Much of that praise has turned to criticism and while the rest of the world is slowly opening up, more than a third of our population are locked down and the rest of us are waiting for what will be the inevitable spread of Delta unless the government does a reset and does it fast.


How contagious is Covid-19?

09/10/2021

From Information is Beautiful   


Grounded Kiwis take Govt to court

09/10/2021

Grounded Kiwis are taking the government to court over the MIQueue shambles.

Grounded Kiwis, a newly incorporated society advocating for Kiwis at home and abroad impacted by the Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) system, has filed a judicial review claim in the High Court in respect of the Government’s operation of the MIQ system, and the limitation this has placed on New Zealanders right to return home.

The claim alleges that the Government has acted unlawfully, unreasonably, and in breach of section 18(2) of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 in the way it has established and operated the MIQ system, in particular in respect of the ‘fastest finger first’ model, the current ‘lottery’ model, and the emergency and group allocation system.

Paul Radich QC and Lucila van Dam, public law barristers at Clifton Chambers in Wellington, are acting for Grounded Kiwis. . .

The claim is a judicial review. The right to apply for judicial review through the High Court is a central part of the “rule of law”. A core role of the courts is to enforce legal rights and obligations, and judicial review specifically is a key way of making sure that government bodies and officials act within the law and not arbitrarily.

The claim filed by Grounded Kiwis alleges that the Minister of Health, Minister for Covid-19 Response, and Chief Executive of the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment acted unlawfully and unreasonably in respect of the design and operation of the MIQ system. It alleges that the previous ‘first-in-first served’ allocation system, the current ‘lottery’ allocation system, and the offline allocation system (including emergency allocations) are in breach of section 18(2) of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, and that the Ministers have failed to take into account the right of New Zealanders to enter New Zealand. The claim also alleges that the Minister for Covid-19 Response breached the public’s legitimate expectation that he would develop a sustainable, scalable model for isolation as a matter of priority. . .   

The MIQ system is not fit for purpose and all the lottery has done is to show the extent of the problem with more than 20,000 people trying to return to New Zealand.

Grounded Kiwis has set up a GiveALIttle page to pay the legal costs. The link at the top of the page will take you there.

UPDATE:

The GiveALIttle target has been reached.


No shows

08/10/2021

Christchurch’s  NZ Agricultural Show has fallen victim to Covid-19 – again.

The Canterbury A&P Show has been cancelled for the second year in a row.

Around 100,000 people normally attend, with many rural business trading at the event.

The event is one of three that make up the Cup and Show Week in November. The A&P show, Addington Cup Week and Riccarton Park Races were projected to bring in more than $4m of visitor spending and 22,275 visitor nights.

It’s not just the loss of the event but the loss to retail, hospitality and entertainment businesses which miss out on the people who don’t come to the city because the event isn’t taking place.

Joanna Norris, chief executive of the city’s economic development ageny ChristchurchNZ, said it was a massive loss for the city and region.

“The government’s health-based approach to Covid-19 is essential and we absolutely support it.

“However, businesses and the major events sector need a clear outline of the pathway to lower alert levels in the South Island.

“Protecting the lives of New Zealanders is of primary importance, however sustaining safe community and economic activity in the South Island is also of huge importance.”

ChristchurchNZ and the show asked the government to allow the outdoor event to trial a vaccine certificate programme but couldn’t get approval in time, Norris said. . . 

Couldn’t get approval in time. Sigh – again.

Does no-one in the government and its ministries understand the need for urgency?

This isn’t the only show to go:

. . .Organisers said the executive committee of the Hawke’s Bay A&P Society met last night to review the risks and after significant consideration, made the hard decision to cancel.

The show was scheduled to run from October 20th-22nd. It’s one of the largest in the country and usually attracts 30,000 people to the Tomoana Showgrounds. . .

Organisers of the Waikato A&P Show, which was also due to get underway in October, announced they were cancelling the event earlier this month. At the time they said this was because of the uncertainty around Covid-19 alert levels.

The Gisborne, Wairarapa and Waikato A&P shows were also due to take place next month but have all been cancelled as well.

Oamaru’s Victorian Heritage Celebrations have also been cancelled.

There will be many more shows and events that have been, or will be, cancelled as uncertainty about Covid alert levels continues.

The government can’t prop up every organisation, but underwriting the bigger regular events and shows would enable people to plan without facing financial disaster if they had to be cancelled.

 


Give us Hope

08/10/2021

MIQueue madness could cost lives

07/10/2021

This is MIQueue madness:

Southland Hospital’s maternity unit may be downgraded because its clinical director can’t get back into New Zealand.

Dr Jim Faherty, who runs the hospital’s Obstetrics and Gynaecology service, has been trying to return home to his family and his important job for a month, but can’t get a spot in Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ).

He’s frustrated with the opaque, clunky and time-consuming emergency allocation process and is struggling to understand why the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment doesn’t recognise his role as critical.

This is despite a letter from the Southern District Health Board chief executive Chris Fleming explaining why the specialist surgeon is urgently needed back in Southland where maternity services are “precarious”. . . 

After losing his mum in March and being unable to attend her funeral in the United States, Faherty’s father was admitted to a US hospital in a serious condition in August, where he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and renal failure, with six months left to live.

Fleming wrote that the DHB discouraged staff from travelling, but given the emotional impact of Faherty’s situation, decided it was extremely important he be allowed to see his family in the US.

Faherty and management understood that he would be eligible for two of the emergency allocation categories outlined on the MIQ website – namely, the category related to delivering critical public or health and disability service and the one for New Zealand residents visiting terminal family members. . . 

How on earth can he not be eligible?

MIQ joint head Megan Main said the category Faherty applied under was only for people who were starting a new critical job in New Zealand.

All applications for emergency were assessed on a case by case basis, she said. . . 

Can she not see the stupidity of the first sentence and the contradiction of the second?

Assessing by a case by case basis shouldn’t be a tick box exercise matching the application against the criteria. It should look at the individual circumstances of the the applicants and consequences of refusing entry not just for the applicants but others who depend on them.

In this case it isn’t just the doctor and his family, it’s the staff and patients at the hospital who urgently need the doctor’s services.

This madness could cost lives.


How sick is the health system?

06/10/2021

A selection from a few days of the Democracy Project’s Politics Daily gives an idea of just how sick the health system is:

Nicholas Jones (Herald): Auckland Hospital mother, baby deaths: Review reveals ‘toxic’ culture claims, staff struggling with workload
Michael Reddell (Croaking Cassandra): Health spending
Logan Hagoort (Stuff): ‘When will we allow people to have the care they need in all areas of their lives’
ODT Editorial: Too much mental health korero
Virginia Fallon (Stuff): This is no ordinary blue: Trying to hold on through a mental health crisis

Rachel Thomas (Stuff): Sick baby denied surgery as more than 81,000 people face delayed healthcare 
Bridie Witton (Stuff): Meth users add pressure to busy emergency departments during lockdown
Bryan Betty (Herald):  We’d all live longer with more general practitioners (paywalled)
Karl du Fresne: Mental health gets the standard Labour treatment
Mike Houlahan (ODT): Extent of aged care nurse shortage revealed

RNZ: The Detail: Increasing ICU bed numbers is not that simple
Neil Lindsay, Tom Baker, Octavia Calder-Dawe (Newsroom): Apps won’t save us from mental health crisis
Jane Nixon (Newshub): Gumboot Friday offering free online counselling for youth
Malcolm Mulholland (Herald): The value of a New Zealander’s life (paywalled)
Matt Burrows (Newshub): Royal NZ College of GPs speaks out against Ivermectin, says it’s ‘strongly not recommended’ as COVID-19 treatment
Louisa Steyl (Stuff): 200 children on dental waiting list in the south
Emma Russell (Herald): Deadly cancer error: Man dies after ‘unacceptable’ failure by Taranaki DHB
Sarah Rhodes (Newsroom): Covid’s forgotten health care worker
Mitchell Alexander (Newshub): Wellington Free Ambulance Onesie Day street appeal canned again because of COVID-19

Nicholas Jones (Herald): Will the health system cope with Delta? (paywalled)
Nicholas Jones (Herald): Frontline workers under ‘extraordinary pressure’, Health Minister Andrew Little says
Hannah Martin (Stuff): Patient ‘powerless’ after DHBs told private hospitals to defer surgeries
Hannah Martin (Stuff): Kiwis warned not to self-treat with ivermectin as import attempts grow
Mike Houlahan (ODT): Hospital was ill-equipped to deal with cases
RNZ: Patients waiting too long for cancer diagnoses under Covid-19 restrictions – doctor
Mike Houlahan (ODT): Cancer waiting list reduction at risk
Nikki Macdonald (Stuff): Families shuttled around country in desperate search for neonatal beds
Louisa Steyl (Stuff): Health boss raises safety concerns over midwife shortage
Esther Ashby-Coventry (Stuff): PSA takes legal action against South Canterbury District Health Board

Florence Kerr (Stuff): Auckland DHB staff told in memo not to speak to the media
Mitchell Alexander (Newshub): Cancer patient accuses government of playing with people’s lives as surgery cancelled three times due to COVID-19
Mike Houlahan (ODT): Addiction treatment wait ‘unacceptable’
Spinoff: My miscarriage was hard. A stretched health service made it so much worse
Lucy McLean (Spinoff): Why I’ve had enough of mental health awareness
Herald Editorial: We must confront mounting levels of dementia need
Danielle Clent (Stuff): Mental health ‘suffers more every lockdown’ as Auckland’s fifth stint rolls on

Hannah Martin (Stuff): Questions remain about isolation room capacity after Middlemore case
Stephen Forbes (Local Democracy Reporting): Unions united in call for mandatory Covid-19 tests for all hospital patients in Auckland
Dan Satherley (Newshub): Health Minister Andrew Little unsure why private hospitals were told to cancel surgeries
Rachel Thomas (Stuff): Surgeries, scans delayed for 37,000 patients due to lockdown
Richard Simpson (Spinoff): Mapping order in the chaos: a view from the pale blue dot
Mike Houlahan (ODT): Health board misses safe staffing deadline
Oliver Lewis (BusinessDesk): Long wait for new health builds (paywalled)
Hamish Cardwell (RNZ): Shortage of psychologists leaving patients on waitlist for 9 to 12 months

Will Trafford (Māori TV): Critics slam government’s new mental health strategy
Katie Harris (Herald): Calls and texts to mental health line almost double since 2019
Nicholas Jones (Herald): ICU nurses are in demand globally. They can’t get into New Zealand to take up job offers (paywalled)
Tom Kitchin (RNZ): Patient safety endangered at Hawke’s Bay Hospital – union

Vita Molyneux (Herald): Families ‘heartbroken’ by birthing facility closure, director says Government ‘failed’ them

1 News: Pasifika community leader slams health system after horror Covid experience

Mike Houlahan (ODT): 60 breast scans not reliable
Mike Houlahan (ODT): Leading the charge for nurses
Rebecca Macfie (Newsroom): No profit: Home care firm ditches DHB

Katie Townshend (Stuff): Covid-19 impact on healthcare in Nelson-Marlborough could last three years

Health is complex, these problems haven’t just happened and the blame for them can’t be laid only at the feet of the current government.  But a few weeks ago Dr Shane Reti pointed out where blaming the government is justified  :

I now know why we have been caught unprepared for the Delta outbreak. I now know why we have 30,000 people on overdue waiting lists. I now know why we have nursing shortages and pay freezes. And it is revealed in this Treasury document to Andrew Little, released a few weeks ago that talks about this year’s health budget. The Treasury document from Treasury to Andrew Little states that the priority for health funding in Budget 2021 is ensuring that the health and disability system has resources. I want to repeat that: the priority for health funding in 2021 is ensuring that the health and disability system—the reforms—have resources. That is why we have been unprepared and where we are today.

The document goes on to say not to increase the minimal viable package for DHBs. It then goes on to say all manifesto commitments that are not highly time sensitive should be deferred in the future. That’s where the 20 mobile dental clinics that were promised this year have gone.

We don’t have enough ICU specialists because this Government made health restructuring the funding priority. We are building negative pressure rooms in the middle of a pandemic because this Government made health restructuring the funding priority. There are not enough nurses because this Government made health restructuring the funding priority. There are 30,000 people on overdue waiting lists because this Government made health restructuring the funding priority. People have been delayed their cancer treatment because this Government has made health restructuring the funding priority. There is no money for Pharmac cancer medicines because this Government has made health restructuring the funding priority. This Government has put all its money on a Hail Mary pass that is health restructuring. And while they’ve been distracted, we have caught coronavirus.

There are actually two answers to why we’re in the situation we are today. The first is that the Government didn’t secure the border and let Delta in. The second is that they have made health restructuring the funding priority. They have squandered money.

Squandered money and now I want to talk about squandered time. Delta arrived in New Zealand in April this year—five months ago. And from then to now, this Government has squandered the time and we were unprepared. They were too interested in cycle bridges and Mongrel Mob methamphetamine programmes and health restructuring to protect us from Delta. In June, the Government’s own independent Roche report into the Valentine’s Day outbreak made several recommendations, including these three: (1) immediately remove the plus classification for close and casual contacts because they are too confusing—immediately. What has happened? Have they been removed? No. In fact, another criterion has been added called high risk. Immediately in June was what the recommendations were—not carried out: fail. Second, they were told to increase the number of people at the Auckland Regional Public Health Service by 25 fulltime equivalents. I challenge the Government to say whether they have done this. Thirdly, the Roche report said increased system capacity and resourcing for an outbreak. The time frame was three months; that three months has passed—clearly a fail. . . 

 

 

These problems would be serious at the best of times. They are far, far worse now that the government has given up on eliminating Covid-19 which increases the threat that hospitals will be overwhelmed.

The health system is very sick and structural reform could be part of the prescription to make it better. But spending millions on restructuring in the middle of a pandemic rather than on increasing the resilience of hospitals and the health workforce is not the right medicine.


From elimination to confusion

05/10/2021

The government has managed to upset people across the political spectrum with yesterday’s pronouncement from the podium of truth which took us from the elimination strategy to the confusion strategy.

From the left:

From someone whose politics I don’t know:

And from the right:

 

 

 

Time has run out on the government’s strategy:

The Government’s incoherent and timid approach to the Covid pandemic shows it lacks the courage required to make tough decisions for the benefit of New Zealand, says Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins.

“Today’s announcement confirms what most New Zealanders – especially Aucklanders – have come to learn only too well over the past seven weeks of lockdown: The Government is completely out of ideas.

“Elimination has failed but, while the Prime Minister says we’ve now moved to a ‘transition’ stage, the strategy is fundamentally unchanged.

“The Prime Minister’s supposed roadmap to recovery is nothing more than a vague wishlist she tinkers with as dictated by the situation she reacts to. Where is the vision?

“The fact is that Jacinda Ardern has no answers to problems that she and her Government promised us were under control. The situation is now, very clearly, out of control and worsening every day.

“As a result of their incompetence and their incoherent supposed ‘strategy’, New Zealand is stuck in a lockdown limbo with no answers and no way out.

“Enough is enough. Time has run out. The PM must admit she and her Government have failed. Own up to your mistakes. Change direction. Be bold. There are choices.

“We will help in any way we can. Indeed, our ‘Opening Up’ plan, if immediately adopted, could see an end to lockdowns and Kiwis able to travel again by Christmas.

“The country deserves answers and a clear way past Covid. We have provided this to you. Take it onboard. New Zealand needs it more than ever.

“We can open up with a vigorous suppression strategy. This shifts our focus from the border alone to one where technology like rapid antigen testing is used to quickly identify and isolate cases.

“Had this approach been used at the Auckland boundary it’s highly unlikely the virus would have spread into the Waikato and beyond.

“The Government’s approach is the worst of both worlds. We have the all the costs and harm of a lockdown without the benefit of eliminating Covid.

“Kiwis need to see the Government’s detailed plan now. It is not fair to ask more than two million people to live in a lockdown conditions without an end goal in mind.

“If the goal is get 90 per cent of eligible Kiwis double-vaccinated, then we are looking at least another six weeks of lockdown. This can’t be the Government’s only plan.

“Adopt National’s Opening Up plan. Use new technology and treatments to avoid lockdowns and supress Covid, while turbocharging our vaccine rollout.

“The Government’s one-dimensional approach is costing the country more than $1 billion a week. Businesses are being shuttered at breakneck pace. The numbers of people on benefits have exploded. Mental health services are swamped. This is a crisis.

“Do the right thing, Prime Minister, and be kind to Kiwis who are desperate for answers.”

It wouldn’t be hard to do better than the vague pronouncement:

In the absence of a coherent strategy or plan from the Government to deal with the ongoing outbreak in Auckland other than abject surrender, National’s Chris Bishop says there are a number of actions the Government can take immediately to enhance the Covid response.

“The Prime Minister has belatedly realised the significance of vaccination. It would have been good if she had come to this realisation in the first six months of the year when New Zealand made an explicit policy decision to have the developed world’s slowest vaccine rollout.

“First, Aucklanders deserve to know at what level of vaccination restrictions can be loosened. Today’s roadmap was vague, confusing and will cause even more stress for Aucklanders.

“The loosening of restrictions should be explicitly tied to particular vaccination rates. This will help motivate people to go out and get vaccinated.

“Ideally the Government would open up more activities to vaccinated people more quickly. This would act as a spur for people to go and get vaccinated and reward people who have done the right thing. But the Government’s incompetence in rolling out the vaccine authentication means this isn’t an option for now. The Government must move immediately to give New Zealanders a digital vaccine authentication tool so people who have been vaccinated can prove it, and enjoy the benefits of having done so.

“Second, we must vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate. National has put forward 11 useful ideas to supercharge vaccination in our Opening Up plan and we urge the Government to act on them.

“Some sensible ideas that could be actioned straight away include allowing patient data held by DHBs and Primary Health Organisations to be automatically accessed by Whānau Ora providers like the Waipareira Trust so they can be contacted by those providers about getting the vaccine, mandating that all currently vaccinating GPs and pharmacists can vaccinate for COVID-19, and ramping up pop-up clinics, walk-in centres, 24-hour drop-in clinics for essential workers and vaccination buses.

“Third, it is clear that there is Covid in the community but surveillance testing via nasal PCR testing is just not picking up cases quickly enough. The Government should immediately contract private sector saliva testing companies like Rako Science to conduct surveillance testing. This would significantly increase testing capacity and make a real difference.

“Fourth, the Government should drop its ill-considered ban on rapid antigen testing and roll it out more widely to essential workers, particularly those crossing the Auckland boundary. The case of the Covid-positive truck driver is a perfect example of why rapid antigen testing is needed. He was infectious from September 28 but had his last test on September 24. Daily rapid testing would likely have picked it up sooner.

“Finally, given the cases now appearing at hospitals, there needs to be regular surveillance testing at our public hospitals. Private hospitals have been regularly testing staff for some time now but there is no coordinated, comprehensive plan in our public hospitals. This should be an urgent priority.

“The Government’s rushed and incoherent plan needs bolstering and we urge the Government to pick up National’s ideas to make suppression work.

And let’s not forget why we’re in this position:

Don’t hold your breath for an apology from the government that didn’t rush the roll-out and thereby didn’t allow us to protect ourselves soon enough.

And don’t hold your breath for something a lot more coherent and helpful than yesterday’s pronouncement.

The government was very good at telling us what to do but once again is showing it’s not nearly as good at doing what’s needed itself.

Given that anyone who hasn’t got vaccinated should follow this advice:


Safer by the numbers

04/10/2021

David Farrar has done the numbers on whether the Covid-19 vaccine is safer than the disease:

. . .  NZ the death rate from Covid-19 is 118 times greater than the worst possible death rate from the vaccine. And it is 7,000 times greater than the best possible death rate from the vaccine.

How about non fatal but serious impacts? The vaccine has around 1 in 1,700 suffer a serious side effect. Compare that to the 1 in 8 who get Covid-19 and still have symptoms after more than three months. I prefer 1 in 1700 to 1 in 8. . . 

How can you argue with those numbers?


Rural round-up

30/09/2021

‘Frustrating, disappointing’ – Call for better vaccine rollout in rural areas – Sally Murphy:

There are concerns the vaccine rollout is lagging in rural areas with some farmers having to do three-hour round trips to get the jab.

The Rural General Practice Network said it had been asking for data on rural vaccinations from the Ministry for Health for some time without a response.

Chief executive Dr Grant Davidson said the network believed the rates for rural communities, and rural Māori in particular, lagged the vaccination rates for the general population being reported by the government.

“We do know that there are small niche areas such as Rakiura/Stewart Island where entire communities have been vaccinated, but we believe this is hiding what is a major issue for a vulnerable population in New Zealand – the rural backbone of the country needing support. . . 

Growers nervous of labour shortage despite imminent arrival of RSE workers – Tom Kitchin:

The arrival of seasonal workers from next week gives growers some certainty, but they fear the upcoming season will still be a big challenge.

The arrival of seasonal workers from next week gives growers some certainty, but they fear the upcoming season will still be a big challenge

Seasonal workers arriving from the Pacific Islands next week will be able to skip MIQ and go to work during their isolation period.

Vaccinated workers from Vanuatu can come in from next Monday, while those from Tonga and Samoa will need to wait until Tuesday, 12 October.

The workers will complete a self-isolation period of seven days and undertake day zero and day five tests, all while working at their work sites. . . 

Groundswell protests no Bloody Friday – luckily – Jamie Mackay:

Imagine running 1500 animals through the main street of a city, then mobbing them up and cutting their throats in protest.

The year was 1978. I remember it well, as it was a watershed year in my life. I’d taken a gap year after secondary school to try my hand at senior rugby with the big boys.

Many parts of Southland had suffered a crippling drought in 1978. Combine that with a season of industrial mayhem at the four local “freezing” works, and you had a powder keg waiting to explode. The meat companies, farmers, unions and workers were literally at each other’s throats.

Lambs weren’t worth much and the old ewes, who had selflessly given the best five or six years of their lives to bear the aforementioned lambs, were worthless. They had reached their use-by-date. As the dry summer rolled into autumn and beyond, the old ewes were eating scarce winter feed needed for their younger and more productive counterparts in the flock. . . 

Open trade climate change can work together – Macaulay Jones:

Supporting local businesses benefits the economy, but supporting local products is not always beneficial for the climate.

As the world and New Zealand continues to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and policies enacted to curb its spread, many consumers are making a conscious effort to support local businesses.

Local businesses directly and indirectly support local communities and are often owned and operated by active members of the community. However, while supporting local businesses is a great way of helping your neighbours financially recover from the pandemic, extending this principle to choosing to buy local products as a means of taking climate action may not offer the benefits for the atmosphere you’d expect. . . 

OSPRI reduces TB slaughter levy rates for dairy and beef farmers :

OSPRI who manages the TBfree programme is to reduce the TB slaughter levy rates for cattle farmers from 1 October.

The Differential Slaughter Levy (DSL) is reviewed each year to ensure that industry funding aligns with that agreed under the 2016 TB Plan Funders’ Agreement, this is subject to a 15-year period.

The slaughter levies collected support funding of the TBfree programme on behalf of the beef and dairy industries. The revised levies are collected by meat processors.

The new differential slaughter levy rates are: . . 

This silage contractor chartered a jet for $44,000 to get his workers home from New Zealand – Angus Verley:

What do you do when your key staff are stranded overseas and peak season is fast approaching?

COVID-19 has shut down international travel. For Sam Monk, one of the largest silage contractors in the country, that meant four of his machinery operators were stuck in New Zealand.

With just a fortnight before those workers were required in Australia for corn planting, Mr Monk went to the extraordinary length of chartering a plane to pick up his workers.

Mr Monk said the charter plane landed in Sydney on Friday. His employees are completing two weeks of quarantine before getting to work. . .


Once was 1st

30/09/2021

New Zealand once was first in Bloomberg’s resilience ranking.

Now we’re 38th.

 

The government keeps telling how lucky we were to have so long without Covid-19 in the community.

We the luck ran out and we need more than luck to get our freedom back now.

We need most of the population vaccinated and we need to get rid of the MIQueue with a far, far better system for allowing people to come and go from the country safely.


Losing patience

27/09/2021

A Research New Zealand survey still shows strong support for lockdowns, but only until the vaccine target is reached:

Although people have found this lockdown harder than previous ones most are abiding by the restrictions. But the social licence is being strained and patience will run out if lockdowns continue to be imposed when most of us are vaccinated.

Patience is already stretched for people like Sir Ian Taylor who have practical ideas to solve the MIQ shambles:

MIQ is as big a threat to keeping their businesses operating as is COVID. These are the businesses whose taxes help fund the front-line workers battling to keep us safe on the ground, the government officials, and their advisers and, of course, all the politicians. They are also the businesses we will need to still be operating and growing when we finally settle on what “the new normal” is.

Word was that some of your officials have been working on a paper over the past few weeks to address the MIQ issue for business, but very few of us had any idea who those officials were or what they were planning. 

Over the past week, The Bench has been working on a more immediate plan we’d like to share with you to go alongside the work your officials are doing.

We all agreed that we need to work together and do it with complete transparency rather than behind closed doors. This way everyone would learn about some of the tools and processes already being used by businesses, here and overseas, to keep their people, and their jobs, safe.

Tools and processes that have proved to be successful.

Did you know there was a company in Dunedin that has driven a multi-million dollar programme that has resulted in a portable COVID rapid testing device that can give you a PCR result in 25 minutes?

Or another New Zealand company that can retrofit your air conditioning that will kill 99.9% of all pathogens in the room – including COVID. And then there are the companies that are already using rapid testing to test all their staff each day, so they have early warnings of a potential outbreak. Or the device that you can wear on your arm, like an iPhone, to detect the earliest symptoms of COVID.

All these companies have stepped up but very few knew what the others were doing. What they all had in common was they weren’t able to get through to you with what they had to offer.

So, here’s our idea – which we will conduct out in the open so others can contribute as we progress. It will not cost the government a cent, but we may need you to make a call to Australia because the plan is for me to make a business trip to Sydney in the next couple of weeks.

I asked around work who was best to do this – everyone agreed that everything worked better when I was out of the office, so it’s me. Like everyone in our company, I am vaccinated.

Although I am in a city that hasn’t had a Covid case for over a year, we will treat this test as though I was in Auckland.

For seven days prior to departure, I will live under Level 3 constraints, and I will be rapid tested every day. On days 1 and 5, I will be PCR tested as well. One of New Zealand’s major companies that is rapid testing its own staff each day has agreed to provide the expertise I need for the rapid testing. I will also test the PCR mobile device during this period.

I will fly to Sydney where I will be antigen tested on landing and met by a fully vaccinated driver. A major hotel brand has agreed to be part of this trial, subject to gaining the necessary approvals from the NSW government. This is where your phone call could help, especially as I am coming from the COVID free South Island, there’s only one of me, and I will be tested every day.

The hotel chain provides quarantine facilities for a number of Australian state governments, but I will be taken to a non-Quarantine hotel and given a room in a separate wing away from other guests. They have a comprehensive plan around COVID safety and wellbeing and have previously used an alternative quarantine proposal which has been successfully applied to accommodate international sporting teams staying in their hotels, backed by a carefully followed 50-page COVID-safe plan. They will provide room service meals delivered by fully vaccinated staff wearing masks.

Once I have cleared the agreed quarantine period, even if it is two weeks, I will travel with the hotel driver to the FOX offices where they have a process of rapid testing for anyone entering the building, including staff.

On completion of my business there, I will fly back to Auckland where I will be PCR tested using the new portable device before flying to Dunedin where I will go into a private dwelling on my own. I will be PCR tested on my first day back and resume my daily testing until having a final PCR test at a time determined by your officials.

We will do all of this in full view of the public with daily reporting through The Herald.

We will also work with you to identify an independent audit company to oversee the process and we will provide them with the app we built for our staff working offshore. It’s called ResponseAbility. . . 

This is as near to free of any risk for spreading Covid-19 as it could be, short of not going at all. The risk to businesses, the wider economy and everything that depends on them from maintaining the fortress is far, far greater.

As John Key opines:

. . . In a crisis, humans can be creative and inventive. Faced with the growing acceptance that Covid-19 and its variants may be with us indefinitely, the New Zealand Government and public health officials, like Nasa in 1970, rapidly need to change their thinking to adapt to the new challenge.

The aim should no longer be to exist in a smug hermit kingdom, but to get back to a life where New Zealanders can travel overseas – for any reason – knowing they can return home when they want to, and where we again welcome visitors to this country.

These are not radical aims, yet there has been no coherent plan shared with the public for when or how these might be achieved. The only urgency we’ve seen for months is an enthusiasm to lock down our country, lock up our people and lock out our citizens who are overseas.

Some people might like to continue the North Korean option. I am not one of them. Public health experts and politicians have done a good job of making the public fearful, and therefore willing to accept multiple restrictions on their civil liberties which are disproportionate to the risk of them contracting Covid.

As more and more of us are vaccinated the risk gets lower.

Another problem with the hermit kingdom model is that you have to believe the Government can go on borrowing a billion dollars every week to disguise that we are no longer making our way in the world.

You also have to ignore the deafening voices of tens of thousands of New Zealanders who are having their citizenship compromised by being stranded overseas. A very few of them manage to get back when public servants in Wellington decide whose plight is desperate enough to be rewarded with a golden ticket to MIQ. How is it that bureaucrats are deciding who gets to come home, while pretending the rest have been on an extended overseas shopping trip so deserve nothing more than being left to the mercy of a lottery?

A lottery is not a public policy. It’s a national embarrassment. Whether you get to see your grandchild, or your dying mother, or your sister’s wedding, depends on whether or not your number comes up. This is a lottery that is gambling with people’s families and futures.

MIQ has turned into MIQueue with facilities unable to cope with fewer people needing and wanting to come in.

Meanwhile, those brave New Zealanders who have started or bought a small business are sleepless with worry – as are their workers – because lockdowns are an indiscriminate tool that stops commerce as effectively as it stops Covid. The true harm is being concealed by an economy propped up by borrowing.

Too often, I hear commentators supporting the North Korean option because they claim that opening up to the rest of the world will introduce the virus, and therefore cost people their lives.

International evidence does not support that claim. If you are vaccinated, your chances of being hospitalised or dying from Covid are slim.

There is an argument that the Government should mandate vaccination, but no country has done this, and neither will ours. Every day in New Zealand people die of smoking-related cancer or other conditions in which lifestyles have played a part. We each make our choices and live with the consequences.

I support the need for people whose work puts them at greatest risk of contracting Covid-19 having to be vaccinated but no democratic government should mandate vaccination for everyone.

However, more could and should be done to get to those people who could and would be vaccinated and have not yet been.

But here’s a plan that might work:

1. Give Māori and Pacific health providers a financial incentive for every person they get vaccinated in the next six weeks.

2. Give every person aged between 12-29 a $25 voucher of their choice if they get vaccinated before December 1.

3. Allow only vaccinated people into licensed premises (and maybe park the Shot Bro bus outside a few nightclubs as an incentive).

4. Tell New Zealanders when borders will reopen. It might incentivise more people to get jabbed.

5. Stop ruling by fear. Instead, reassure people that living with the virus is possible, as long as you’re vaccinated. Take positive actions like funding Pharmac to invest in therapies proven to help fight the virus, build up our hospital capacity and workforce, use saliva testing for Covid, subsidise home-testing kits for Covid and order booster shots now.

The final part of the plan is to open the borders, soon.

MIQ, as our sole quarantine response, is inadequate. Home quarantine should begin immediately.

The South Australian trial already requires those in home MIQ to leave their phone on 24 hours a day and to agree to using face recognition and GPS technology so they can be monitored.

We could throw in the kicker that if you break quarantine you get a $20,000 fine, and time in the clanger.

Additionally, as Act leader David Seymour has been advocating, we need privately-run and purpose-built short-term MIQ facilities for workers and, in time, for tourists.

This is by no means a complete list of what’s possible. It’s simply a few ways to encourage vaccination and to allow New Zealand to rejoin the world that is opening up without us.

For those who say it’s too hard, or too risky, I ask this: one day, when the largest part of the Minister of Finance’s Budget pays only the interest on the debt we are racking up now, and you can’t have the latest cancer drugs, or more police, because New Zealand can’t afford them, what will you think?

Will you wish that in 2021 the Government had acted with the urgency and creativity that Nasa showed when suddenly having to rethink its approach to the Apollo 13 mission? Nasa succeeded. It proved that to get a different outcome, you need a different strategy.

The government has argued that a health approach to Covid-19 is an economic one. They don’t seem to understand that an economic one is also a health one.

We can’t live forever on borrowed money. It will have to be paid back with interest and paying back that money leaves less for other spending.

Every new business that doesn’t open, every existing business that falters or fails, every business that doesn’t thrive not only makes repaying the debt harder, it frays the economic and social fabric of the country.

In doing so it reduces the ability to fund essential infrastructure and services, one important part of which is the health system that is already severely strained.

The fearful respond to pleas for a plan to open the borders by asking how many people do you want to die of Covid-19?

The obvious response is none but the questioners ignore the toll that lockdowns take and that people have already died and will continue to die of physical and mental illnesses not treated in time as a result of lockdowns.

If only the government would listen to suggestions from the two knights and others like their business advisor Rob Fyfe who is frustrated by the lack of progress:

Fyfe said we currently have a system that was never designed to manage a long-running crisis like this.

“[It] has got so buried in trying to solve the day-to-day issues and so worn out from doing that they just can’t step back and figure out actually how do we involve everyone that has got something to contribute here.

“There are some bloody good ideas and a lot of energy out there that is being underutilised at the moment.” . .

Ideas like those of the proposed by Sir Ian and Sir John, ideas that would help us all if only the government was open to them.


Government by fear

24/09/2021

Does this frighten you?

New modelling prepared for the Government by Shaun Hendy suggests that New Zealand could see up to 7000 Covid-19 deaths a year even with a high proportion of the population jabbed.

The modelling from Te Pūnaha Matatini suggests that if 80 per cent of those aged five or over were fully vaccinated – around 75 per cent of the entire country – Covid-19 would still cause a serious death toll without other restrictions. 

Hendy projects it could cause just under 60,000 hospitalisations and just under 7000 deaths over a one-year period. . .

The worry wouldn’t just be the deaths but the overloading of the health system which would mean more people would be more seriously ill with other conditions and more would die as a result of delayed treatment.

But there’s no need to be as fearful as the government appears to want us to be if, like Heather du Plessis-Allan, we look at what’s happened elsewhere:

You don’t need a model… you can just look at Singapore.    

Same population size as NZ, vaccination rate over that 80% mark now, not seeing 7000 deaths a year.   

They’ve had 16 in the last month.   

According to Hendy’s model they should’ve recorded 540 in the last month alone.   

I could run you through any number of countries with high vax rates that are not recording anything like the level of deaths that Hendy is predicting.   

in fact, even if you wanted to ignore real life and stick to comparisons between models, take a look at what the models across the Tasman are predicting and you’ll find Hendy an alarmist. 

One is predicting 26 deaths a year across Australia.  

Even the worst-case scenarios I can find come nowhere near the predictions Hendy’s making.  . .

 She isn’t the only one  to question Hendy’s numbers:

. . . Covid-19 modeller Rodney Jones, who has also provided modelling and advice to the Government, said real-world experience in countries with reasonably high vaccination rates showed there was unlikely to be that many deaths and the Government “didn’t need to scare New Zealanders into getting vaccinated”.

The Government released the modelling from Te Pūnaha Matatini on Thursday showing how much various vaccination rates would protect New Zealand.

It suggested that even with a vaccination rate of 80 per cent of those aged 5 or over – 75 per cent of the whole country – New Zealand could still see close to 7000 deaths a year from Covid-19, and an over-loaded healthcare system. 

Jones said this didn’t pass the “plausibility test” when compared to real-world results in other countries.

“That is 140 deaths a week. Singapore has had 11 deaths with just under 80 per cent vaccinated over the last month,” Jones said. (Singapore has a similar population to New Zealand.)

“If you’re going to use this model in this way it should be peer-reviewed by global experts.”

“It’s absolutely unconvincing – it really needs to be reworked.”

Jones said the country didn’t need to be scared into getting vaccinated with talk of high death tolls.

“We need a positive story. The evidence is that negative takes and the use of fear does not get people vaccinated,” Jones said.

“I just think it’s not helpful to put a model out like this at this point. We need to look to 2022 with confidence.”

Jones said a realistic goal of 80 per cent of the total population – about five percentage points higher than the point that Hendy said could cause 7000 deaths – was realistic and “the evidence is we will get fantastic results at that level”. . . 

I don’t watch or listen to the 1pm party political broadcasts sermons from the podium of truth but they attract a very high audience.

How would all those people, many of them still locked up down in Auckland, many already feeling fragile, feel hearing the need for an unrealistically high target of 90% vaccinated and the dire predictions should that not be reached?

Would it prompt anyone who hadn’t had, or booked to have, a vaccine to get vaccinated?

It might have worked for those who just hadn’t got round to it, but what good would piling fear on top of the fears those fearful of the vaccine already have?

The government has been ruling by fear ever since it grabbed hold of the Covid-19 agenda.

That’s not showing the kindness it preaches. It might have worked at first, but using scare tactics like Hendy’s modelling is unnecessary and cruel.

I have been double vaccinated and will get a booster should that be recommended and available. I think that anyone who could be vaccinated should be, but by choice not by coercion or driven by fear.

There are far better ways for the government to get more people to get vaccinated than scaring them into it.

It should also be doing everything it can to fix the multitude of problems which make health services and hospitals  vulnerable, with or without Covid-19.

The Government’s appointment of board members to head up its ill-timed and ideologically-driven health system restructure shows how out of step it is on the chronic issues currently affecting New Zealand’s health system, says National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti.

“The Government’s costly distraction with restructuring the health system in the middle of a pandemic may explain why our Intensive Care Units were under-prepared and why Auckland is still in Level 3 lockdown.

“The Government has so far spent $38 million on 78 Wellington bureaucrats and another $4.3 million on 21 Ernst & Young consultants to plan the restructure project. This money could have been used to pay a premium, as other countries did, to get the Pfizer vaccine into New Zealand much more quickly.

“The Government should be focusing on the 62,000 cancelled procedures, including for people with cancer, right now rather than progressing health restructuring during a pandemic. . .

Initiatives that would empower us to look after ourselves should Covid-19 continue to spread, or resurface, in the community would also help lessen the threat of widespread disease and over burdened hospitals.

Ending the government’s ban on self-testing Covid-19 kits that are being used successfully in other countries would be a good start.

But perhaps the government prefers to keep us scared and submissive.


Do vaccines work are they safe?

23/09/2021

Do Covid-19 vaccines work?

ABSTRACT

The global effort to vaccinate people against SARS-CoV-2 in the midst of an ongoing pandemic has raised questions about the nature of vaccine breakthrough infections and the potential for vaccinated individuals to transmit the virus. These questions have become even more urgent as new variants of concern with enhanced transmissibility, such as Delta, continue to emerge. To shed light on how vaccine breakthrough infections compare with infections in immunologically naive individuals, we examined viral dynamics and infectious virus shedding through daily longitudinal sampling in a small cohort of adults infected with SARS-CoV-2 at varying stages of vaccination. The durations of both infectious virus shedding and symptoms were significantly reduced in vaccinated individuals compared with unvaccinated individuals. We also observed that breakthrough infections are associated with strong tissue compartmentalization and are only detectable in saliva in some cases. These data indicate that vaccination shortens the duration of time of high transmission potential, minimizes symptom duration, and may restrict tissue dissemination.

The vaccines do not stop people getting COvid-19, but the vaccianted are less likely to contract the disease and if they do they are less likely to infect others and less likely to become seriously ill.

But are they safe?

Professor Graham Le Gros says they are:

“The way we eliminate this virus is vaccination,” Le Gros said. . . 

This vaccine is the safest vaccine I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Le Gros’ confidence in the vaccine comes from seeing the “rigerous” testing and monitoring it has undergone since being released, he said.

The vaccine is monitored both globally by health authorities who report on it. He says providers also do interior testing while also seeing if there are any effects for numerous demographics including the elderly and those with asthma.

“It drives a scientist like me nuts with how rigorous [testing the vaccine] is,” Le Gros said.

“It doesn’t just stop with looking at the data once, they are forever monitoring in what they call ‘phase four’ of the trial.” . . 

Why do so many people still question the efficacy and safety of the vaccines?

Despite the constant monitoring, Le Gros conceded there is misinformation spreading about the vaccine through numerous channels making it more difficult for New Zealand to hit its vaccination targets.

It’s an issue Dr Vanisi Prescott has been trying to tackle on social media with informative videos on platforms such as Tik Tok, but she told Breakfast it’s an uphill battle.

“It’s heartbreaking seeing our most vulnerable communities being effected by this misinformation,” Prescott said. “There’s so much misinformation out there and it’s difficult to decipher what information to actually listen to.

“The issue with social media is that it doesn’t differentiate truth from rumour and it’s become such an issue that it’s caused a lot of animosity and division as well as anxiety and fear among our people.”

Prescott said she understands people have their reasons if they choose not to get vaccinated but misinformation from social media shouldn’t be one of them.

“Social media masks the fact that there have been a vast majority of studies and medical opinion out there to confirm that this is a safe vaccine and good for all of us.

“Try not to rely on what we see out there but trust in sources or people you trust in like your GP.”

Prescott added she has extra motivation for informing those who are both vulnerable to the virus and misinformation.

“With me being a Tongan GP, I stand firmly in terms of my culture and my values and that is to respect, love and care for my patients – I wouldn’t be standing in front of everyone advocating for a vaccine if we didn’t know it was safe. . .

Charlie Mitchell’s three weeks down the misinformation rabbit hole of dangerous misinformation shows how easy it is to find misinformation and views that foster fears.

There’s lots to be said for not taking everything that comes from official sources as gospel, for questioning and challenging authorities and for doing your own research.

But that doesn’t mean thinking something you find by googling should carry more weight than the data and evidence resulting from scientific rigor by qualified people with experience in the field.


The empty hospital

22/09/2021

How to run a hospital

22/09/2021

Cruel to keep so many out

21/09/2021

The enormous gap between demand from New Zealanders wanting to come home and MIQ spaces was revealed with the new booking system yesterday:

With the unveiling of the MIQ virtual lobby booking system this morning, Kiwis trying to get home are starting to wonder if they ever actually will

A few weeks ago, the announcement of a virtual lobby and queue system coming to the MIQ booking system got hopes up worldwide – from migrants trying to get to their new lives in New Zealand, and Kiwis trying to get home.

But this morning as the virtual lobby opened and sorted people randomly into a queue, it was soon realised that getting one’s hands on a room is still more easily said than done, with a group the size of Timaru also at the lolly scramble.

MIQ released 3000 rooms this morning, but with the queue reaching up to more than 27,000 people, it seems nine in 10 can expect to walk away disappointed.

That’s more than the combined populations of Oamaru and Wanaka who are either shut out of their homeland or can’t leave, even for pressing personal or business reasons, because they won’t be able to come back.

Minister for Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins told people last week they could expect next batches to be 4000 rooms.

However, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment cautioned that because many rooms had already been allocated before the recent pause and facilities may need maintenance, the timing and size of future releases is still being worked on. . . 

It’s cruel to keep so many people out and some people don’t just want to come home, they need to come home.

This morning’s debut of the new ‘virtual lobby’ system for MIQ allocation was both depressing and a debacle, National’s Covid-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop says.

“The virtual lobby system used for the first time this morning solves nothing and has just created even more angst amongst the thousands of Kiwis trying to come home.

“What is needed is a prioritisation system based on points, as proposed by the National Party.

“How is it fair that someone sleeping in a car overseas with an expired visa is treated the same as someone who wants to come home to New Zealand for a holiday at Christmas time?

“There are Kiwis stuck offshore who aren’t legally allowed to be in the country they’re currently in, but who can’t get home to New Zealand. This is an awful situation and one entirely of the Government’s own creation.

“There are people trying to move back to New Zealand permanently with skills and experiences gained overseas treated the same as someone who is just coming for a short period.

“New Zealand should welcome back expats who have typically headed off on an Overseas Experience and who have developed their skills and gained valuable offshore experience.

“When we have a health workforce shortage, why do we treat nurses and doctors the same as other occupations when granting space? It doesn’t make sense. We should be rigorously targeting health sector skills.

“Let’s be clear – there are many good reasons for people to want to come to New Zealand through MIQ, but we need to be realistic. Some reasons have more merit than others, but the system treats everyone the same. . . 

There are emergency spaces but sports people, entertainers and politicians and their entourage get those spots ahead of people desperate to return home:

If James Shaw was giving consolation gifts to Kiwis desperately trying to get home this Christmas he’d likely give them a lump of coal, having confirmed he plans to take 14 staff with him to the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, National’s Climate Change spokesperson Stuart Smith says.

“In answers to our written questions, Minister Shaw has confirmed he intends to take an entourage of 14 people with him to Glasgow – nine from Wellington and a further five from offshore.

“At a time when thousands of Kiwis are unable to get into New Zealand thanks to our chaotic and unfair MIQ system, James Shaw feels he needs an even bigger entourage this time around than the one he took to COP25 in 2019.

“It is astonishing that the Minister is going to COP26 in the first place, let alone taking up 10 MIQ spots for himself and his onshore staffers when they return. . . 

“We have heard countless stories of New Zealanders wanting to come home but who are locked out because they can’t get MIQ spots.

“But that won’t be an issue for Minister Shaw and his entourage – they’ll be home in time Christmas with their families.”

A points system would help prioritise applicants, but it wouldn’t solve the underlying problem of demand for MIQ spaces outstripping supply so badly.

More MIQ facilities are needed – preferably purpose built and away from the centre of Auckland.

Planning and building them would take many months but there is a much simpler and less expensive option that could start immediately.

It would be possible to reduce demand for the scarce spaces by allowing some people to by-pass MIQ.

Friends in the USA were able to travel out of the country and return provided they were fully vaccinated, had a negative test before flying, and self-isolated at home on their return with electronic monitoring to ensure they stayed put.

The government could start a similar system with business travellers, who, as Sir Ian Taylor pointed out know how to keep their people safe:

What we have learned from our experience over the past year and a half is that businesses have a huge interest in keeping their people safe from Covid and they can do it faster than governments because they aren’t having to look after entire countries.

We are only ever sending small numbers away at any time. The 250 staff company I mentioned earlier has a maximum of eight people who ever have to travel abroad. It’s not an Olympic team. . . 

So, “what if” businesses didn’t need to take up MIQ spaces. “What if” businesses could apply existing technologies and protocols that would guarantee that none of their teams would have Covid when they returned to Aotearoa from their essential overseas travels.

For the upcoming Ashes Series we have half a dozen fully vaccinated staff who will travel to Australia and work in mandated bubbles.

They will operate in public at our level 3 and be antigen tested every day. If they ever test positive they will be isolated immediately but, in a year and a half, that has never happened to any of our Kiwi crew offshore.

Three days before they leave Australia to return home they will go into isolation in an approved hotel, or self-isolation location, paid for by us. There they will be tested each day, including the day they fly.

On return to New Zealand they will be booked into an approved hotel or self-managed isolation location, again booked and paid for by us, where they will remain for three to five days, again being tested every day before returning to work. We have built our own tracking app which will be used for audit purposes.

Variations of this model could be used by any company needing to plan overseas travel with certainty.

Do we really need to do another trial when there are already models in play? Why can’t we come off the bench and just make this happen? It’s working now. . .

No there doesn’t need to be another trial.

What is needed is for the government to get over its control freakery, realise that it and its bureaucrats don’t always know best and open its mind to other ways of allowing New Zealanders to come home safely.


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