Left/right rose surprise

25/06/2022

Robert Fulghum reports from Crete:

TRIANTAFYLLO – ROSE STORY

The place and the time:
The far western district of the Greek island of Crete.
The foothills of the high mountains.
Spring-becoming-Summer.

Valleys are blanketed with vineyards, groves of orange trees in blossom, and infinite olive orchards. Sheep. Goats. Wildflowers – poppies, daisies. The landscape is laced with a web of narrow winding roads that began as paths laid down long ago by donkeys and human beings on foot.
Now paved, thanks to the European Union – still narrow, still winding.
This latticework is marked with small villages and remote farmsteads.
You can imagine. . . .

It’s where I go to play a game – Left/Right/Surprise.

The rules: Driving south from my village of Kolymbari, I wait until impulse directs me to turn right at the next intersection. Continuing on that narrow road, I turn left at the next crossroads, and right at the next – keeping my eyes open for the unexpected.
Chance directs my way on.
Looking for surprise.
So as not to miss anything important, I coast along slowly, stopping often.

This particular morning I pass a long fence supporting an extravagance of rose bushes in full bloom – casting their perfume in through the open windows of my car.
A surprise indeed. . . 

Clicking on the link at the start will take you to the rest of the story.


Late and lax again

03/05/2022

The government is crowing about a trial of what could be a welcome addition to  the Covid-testing tool box.

New, more accurate Covid tests which return results in 30 minutes will be trialled at Auckland Airport.

Lamp (loop-mediated isothermal amplification) tests can be self-administered like a RAT (rapid antigen test), but are much more accurate.

They will be trialled at the airport, initially limited to 30 Air NZ staff, and could eventually be used in hospitals, aged care and other sectors, Associate Minister for Covid-19 Response Dr Ayesha Verrall said this morning.

“The Lucira test is shown in clinical trials to be … close to the accuracy of PCR tests, but also the convenience of being a test you can purchase and then take with you to wherever you need it,” she said at a press conference at Auckland Airport. . . 

The Lucira devices had not yet been licensed in New Zealand for broader use. But if the trial proved successful, they could one day be used by travellers.

“Potentially you could carry this test in your suitcase and … then you would know coming back into New Zealand you had the test you need,” Verrall said. 

“You wouldn’t need to run around a foreign city trying to find where you could buy a PCR test. It would be cheaper, and the airline would potentially be able to see the online verification of your test, and know your result was negative.” . . 

Faster, more accurate and able to be carried with you is good, but Sir Ian Taylor writes in a Linked in Post that Lucira could have been here much, much sooner:

OMG!!! LUCIRA. The DPMC has really gone for broke with the PR spin on the Lucira trial – if there is anyone from the media out there who would like another take on this then I am happy to chat. I’d normally write an opinion piece but right now I am focused on my day job and the staggering array of opportunities that have arisen from one, 3 day trip to the US and the NAB show in Vegas.

You won’t need to be stuck behind the DPMC’s on going strategy that make it almost impossible to get the emails you need to show that nothing they are spinning right now bears any resemblance to the truth. I have the email that was sent to the MOH in July 2020 inviting them to be one of 5 countries to be part of the trial that would reduce PCR testing from 4-5 days ( at that time) to 30 minutes. I also have their dismissive – “thanks but no thanks” reply. Happy to share.

Then there are the emails shared with Grant Robertson and Ayesha Verrall back in December of last year with information on Lucira and introducing them to the team at Lucira Health that I had been working with (with no help from the govt) to organise 20,000 doses to be sent immediately to New Zealand for a trial that could have been conducted by Terry Taylor (President of NZIMLS) in less than a week. This shipment was supported by the confidential results of intensive trials conducted by Lucira clients like Canada, Israel, and Qatar. We could have had this trial done and dusted by mid-January – if everyone in the govt hadn’t gone on the PM’s famous “well-earned break!! Then there was the interesting meeting called to discuss the plan to use Lucira – and other kiwi tech – to get kiwis home that I had prepared with the “Cross Sector Border Group” where I was told that only the govt and Air New Zealand were authorised to speak about Lucira in the future ( I introduced Greg Foran to Lucira as well) and I was asked to stop writing those “bad faith articles” about the govt.

While they have dilly dallied – we got 2,000 of the Lucira tests to Tonga at no cost and organised 65 million Orient Gene RATs to be delivered here at a time when the govt was so far behind the 8 ball they were requisitioning ours. . . .

Who do you believe – the government’s PR machine on the businessman who gets things done?

Contrary to the lines it repeats, the government’s response to Covid-19 wasn’t hard and early at the start, it certainly wasn’t hard and early with the vaccination rollout and now it’s been shown to be late and lax again with a trial of Lucira.


Rural round-up

12/04/2022

Meat prices expected to lift as processing capacity returns – Sally Rae:

The “very tricky patch” for sheep and beef farmers is set to continue in the short term, with Covid-19 at its heart, Westpac senior agri-economist Nathan Penny says.

In his monthly meat report, Mr Penny said the Omicron outbreak had been felt most acutely in meat processing plants, where it had caused very low operating capacity and delays in processing.

Some plants were operating at as low as 40% capacity and, as a result, some processing delays had blown out to about eight weeks.

Some bookings were being cancelled at the last minute as plants did not know how many workers would be available day to day. . .

Dairy farmers share solutions to attracting and keeping staff :

DairyNZ will host a webinar on attracting and retaining farm staff in a difficult labour market on 20 April.

Bay of Plenty contract milker and former DairyNZ consultant Jordyn Crouch is one of four guest speakers who will discuss how New Zealand can design dairy workplaces to attract great employees.

Kellogg Rural Leadership project interviews with leading farmers led Crouch to identify four ways dairy workplaces could become more attractive including flexible rosters and pay scales; fostering leaders not managers; developing safe workplace cultures that allow autonomy and innovation; and sharing a common purpose on-farm.

“Involving your farm team is the starting point to improve your workplace,” she says. . . 

RubyRed alert: Zespri’s first commercial red kiwifruit exports on the water – Andrea Fox:

New Zealand’s first commercial volume harvest of red kiwifruit is heading overseas, and with returns to pioneer growers looking juicy, there will be keen interest in the results of this year’s Zespri growing licence round.

Marketer Zespri released a further 350ha of RubyRed brand licence this year in a closed tender bid, the results of which will be announced from May 2.

The New Zealand grower-owned company said it was expecting a total red crop of around 140,000 trays this year. That’s double last year’s harvest, which was used for market trials sales.

Around 100ha was expected to produce the red fruit this year from a total of 415ha already licensed. . .

Gorsebusters of Ōkārito Lagoon – Lois Williams:

The phenomenal work ethic of a volunteer army has the gorse scourge at a West Coast beauty spot in retreat

For the second year running, volunteers from all over New Zealand have descended on picturesque Ōkārito Lagoon in South Westland to attack the gorse menace that threatens the Unesco World Heritage site.

“Gorsebusters”, the phenomenon sparked almost by accident last year by Ōkārito businessman Barry Hughes, is back bigger and better than ever as the West Coast basks in a record-breaking Indian summer.

The tiny community is hosting more than 80 people who arrived this week from as far away as Auckland, paying their own way to help out, armed to the teeth with loppers, pruning saws and other weapons of gorse destruction. . .

Organic medicinal cannabis a huge opportunity for NZ:

“New Zealand organically grown and manufactured medicinal cannabis products will be in huge demand internationally, taking the country’s newest industry to a whole new level in the future,” says Carmen Doran, chief executive of Helius Therapeutics.

Her comments follow the Government announcing a $32.2 million joint project with New Zealand’s largest and only organic certified medicinal cannabis grower, Puro, to accelerate the growth of the industry.

A key workstream will see New Zealand’s largest medicinal cannabis processor and manufacturer, Helius, working alongside Puro on research and development and the creation of an organic manufacturing road map.

“Our ambition is to take Puro’s organically produced high value biomass and manufacture it here in New Zealand to organic certification. Achieving both organically grown and organically manufactured will create a significant premium differentiation for Helius and other local medicinal cannabis companies as well,” says Ms Doran. . .

 

Milford road the one road trip every Kiwi needs to do before the tourists return – Brook Sabin  :

Kiwis love hidden gems, so we’re on a mission to find them. Undiscovered Aotearoa is a video-led series by Brook Sabin and Radha Engling to show you the best of New Zealand.

The call from Mum brought a tear to my eye. Since the pandemic started, I’ve been lucky enough to travel to every region in the country. I’ve seen New Zealand at its best, without the usual hordes of international tourists. And she wanted to know one thing: where is the one place I should see before tourists return.

My answer was emphatic: you need to drive New Zealand’s most beautiful road, weaving through the mountains to Milford Sound. But I added a note of caution: many people don’t do it quite right. They don’t realise there are many stops that make the journey almost as beautiful as the destination. So I volunteered to act as a tour guide.

In the past few weeks, I’ve made the trip twice. Once to gather photos for this story; we were given rare permission to get drone shots along the road, under strict conditions. The second was with my gorgeous mum. . .


Rules no longer serve purpose

21/03/2022

Shh, not sure if we’re supposed to publicise this when the government didn’t, but unvaccinated New Zealanders and others eligible to travel here can now come without having to go through MIQ:

The Government’s quiet move to allow unvaccinated New Zealand citizens and other travellers back into the country is welcome, but further calls into question their Traffic Light Framework, National’s Covid-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop says.

“National welcomes the Government’s move to abolish restrictions on the unvaccinated entering New Zealand, but questions why it randomly plonked on the MIQ website at the end of a three-week Parliamentary sitting block, with no Ministerial announcement.

“This is a significant change to New Zealand’s border and the Government’s reluctance to publicise it is very odd, especially when we have daily 1pm announcements.

For two years Covid-19 announcements have been made from the podium of truth with all the attendant publicity. SImply placing this one on the Ministry website begs the question – why so stealthy?

“There is also confusion about what precisely the Government’s announcement means, including whether it applies just to citizens or also includes permanent residents and other visa holders. That’s what the website says, but the Order has not been published, meaning people can’t study the actual legal words. This is a big mess.

“Perhaps the reason the Government doesn’t want to publicise the change is that it calls into question their Traffic Light Framework. If you don’t have to be vaccinated to enter New Zealand now, why are there so many rules and restrictions on the unvaccinated who are actually in the country?

“It’s time to phase out vaccine mandates, abolish vaccine passes and end the confusing Traffic Light Framework. Omicron has changed the game and the rules no longer make any sense.”

One rule that makes no sense now is businesses having to display the QR code and signing sheets for contact tracing when no contact tracing is being done.

I’ve been dutifully scanning in but am wondering why I’m bothering when nothing would be done with it if I tested positive.

It’s been a very long two years and while the risk of contracting Omicron is real, having rules that no longer serve a purpose is prolonging the hassles.

Keeping rules we don’t need will also erode compliance with any that are still needed.

And changing rules by stealth as has been done with ending MIQ for unvaccinated returnees makes it look like the government doesn’t want to be questioned on the reason for this rule change and no change for others.


Parents are family too

16/03/2022

A plea for kindness from children separated from their grandparents:


They are us

11/02/2022

The be kind  message we were all supposed to follow wore thin a long time ago, not least because it was always a message of selective kindness and do as I say not as I do.

A particularly nasty example of this has been in the vitriol directed at those million or so members of the Kiwi diaspora, many of whom have been unable to come home.

A few heartbreaking cases have hit the headlines. Included in those are pensioners whose superannuation payments have been stopped;  people trying desperately to get back before family members die and others whose own health requires them to return.

For each of those stories that have become public are many more that have not. Some of them have had urgent reasons for wanting to get back, others might just want to exercise their rights as citizens to enter their homeland.

Anabel Weber, an expat in Copenhagen, has written what that feels like in Wet and Confused. The pandemic experience for New Zealanders abroad.:

Imagine a house. A lovely, mostly harmonious family home with 6 occupants and a great view.

One of the family members, let’s call her Aroha, leaves the house to go to work and plans to see her Nana on the way home. While she’s out it begins to rain. A real downpour which catches everyone by surprise.

Hearing rain outside, the rest of the family lock the doors to prevent water coming in.

Aroha waits it out, hoping the rain will pass. But it continues relentlessly. She can’t stay out forever so decides to don her wet weather gear and venture home.

But the door is locked. Perplexed, hearing them inside she rattles the knob. A familiar voice booms. It sounds like they’re telling her she can’t come in.

“You’re wet.”

“But this is my home!” she responds, confused.

“You made your choice. You should have come back when the rain started.” The family inside shout in unison.

Too tired and hurt to explain that she wasn’t able to leave work or desert Nana when the first drops fell, she whispers “But I’m wearing my rain gear. And I’ll dry off first.” But no-one inside is interested. They’re celebrating how good they are at staying dry and what a hardworking family of 5 they are.

The 6th family member begins to cry. Wounded by the harshness of her famously kind family. A voice calls through the keyhole telling her to stop whinging and that she can in fact come in, she just needs to climb through the peculiar shaped window on the second floor, which they’ll open briefly once a fortnight at 3am.

“It’s easy” they say, “Just come in through the window so you can dry yourself off in the attic. And stop complaining. We’d prefer not to let you in at all.”

But the window on the second floor is in an extremely difficult position, taking two weeks and expensive equipment to reach. Aroha only has limited time before needing to return to her commitments in the morning. Quitting her job and abandoning Nana just to access her own bedroom would be extreme. So she waits it out, becoming evermore distressed.

The rain turns out to be a once in a lifetime weather phenomenon lasting several years. During the years that she is locked out Aroha knocks on the door intermittently to see if anyone has had a change of heart. From inside she hears a well rehearsed shout: “How selfish of you, wanting to come in here and drown us all with your outside water”.

Inevitably there’s a leak in the roof. It’s managed with a system of pots and pans to catch the drips which seems to be working. Spooked, the family hurriedly put on rain clothes.

Seeing the frenzy through the windows, Aroha enquires hopefully “Now you’re all protected, can I come in?”

“No. That would be like turning on a firehose during a flood” the family spokesperson sternly replies. “And the rain is getting heavier now so we’re shutting the window on the roof indefinitely.”

Aroha suffers an intense identity crisis. She’s always been part of this family, the only one she has. But, who is she now that she’s not included inside. Nights are sleepless, unable to relax, anxiously worrying about if something happens to her family and she can’t get in to help them. Or if something happens to her and no one can be there.

Meanwhile, the family members decide to throw a party to celebrate their hard work staying dry. They invite entertainers and famous people from outside to make it extra special. But these visitors from the outside don’t use the peculiar shaped window on the roof, they have a regular shaped door to the attic or even their own bedroom, for which they are given a key on request. Aroha watches in disbelief as they enter, some go in and out as many as 3 times.

As Aroha’s cries get louder and more desperate the neighbours overhear and enquire with the family. The leader of the house dismisses their concerns simply.

“Aroha can come home, she just doesn’t like what’s for dinner” they are told. Overhearing this misrepresentation, Aroha further loses faith and trust.

All the other houses on the street allow their family members to come in freely to dry off. Every other house in the town has adopted ways of managing drips to prevent flooding. Not Aroha’s. When her siblings enquire whether there’s another way, the matriarch reminds them how dangerous the outside is and how lucky they are, silencing any scepticism swiftly.

Once a week the head of the household conducts a family meeting. She addresses each member directly and thanks them for their contribution to the family of 5, resulting in them all staying dry. There is no mention of Aroha. No acknowledgement of her sacrifice, pain, suffering. There are many references to the risk “outsiders” pose to the 5 family members.

Meanwhile outside, Aroha sobs through her tears. “I have a bedroom inside. My belongings are in there…” her words disappear into the darkness. She feels helpless. No-one is interested.

____

This is the story of Grounded Kiwis, the diaspora of more than 1 million New Zealand citizens abroad. The key tactic of New Zealand’s pandemic response was strict border controls. While we all understood and respected the role these restrictions had on suppressing the spread while NZ got prepared, instead the population largely got comfy and decided it was better without us at all. From 2021 onwards it became particularly difficult for Kiwis flying the flag abroad to get home. Capacity in the mandatory Managed Isolation hotels was increasingly suppressed, and sometimes stopped entirely for weeks or months on end, causing immeasurable stress. There are many reasons why we are overseas. There is no justifiable reason to lock the door on us.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a plan to reopen New Zealand in 5 stages over the course of 2022. While this offers hope and a greater amount of certainty than we had previously, the plan has not yet been implemented and will be reviewed on 20 February. If it goes ahead, citizens from all countries will be able to return home to self isolate from 14 March 2022. But thousands of migrants separated from their families (including parents from their young children) will need to wait until October 2022 to be reunited.

Shutting the borders at the outset of the pandemic could be justified.

Continuing the MIQueue of misery for so long which was effectively keeping them closed to citizens and residents, except for the few ones who through luck managed to gain an MIQ spot in the lottery could not.

Andrew Geddis writes:

 . . Equally, two years of life with MIQ has made that system’s demands (and foibles) more of a reality for more and more people. I don’t just mean those who have been forced to spend their money on a boat instead of their annual holiday to Europe. Rather, those of us who have been two years apart from family who happened to be making their lives outside this country. Two years in which marriages have happened, babies have been born, funerals have been held; all the human moments of joy and connection that make a life of value. The cost of either putting them on hold or missing out on them completely is cumulative in its effect. While we might sacrifice them on a temporary basis, a third year of loss becomes a real weight to put against the benefits that our elimination strategy delivered.

There is no doubt that, with a few exceptions for which Aucklanders in particular paid a very high price, MIQ kept wide community transmission of Covid 19 at bay. However, the system was far from perfect and open to accusations of being both unfair and inhumane.

Equally inexcusable is the selective kindness of those criticising the diaspora and wanting to keep the borders closed. Perhaps they have forgotten the words which brought the PM fame after the mosque massacre – they are us. 

That begs three questions: does she still remember them, did she really mean them and if so why haven’t they applied to all New Zealanders whether or not they are in New Zealand?

The tens of thousands of people who missed out on the MIQ lottery of misery, and the many others who didn’t even bother trying their luck could be justified in saying the answer to all three of those questions is no..


Too little, too late

21/01/2022

First the good news:

Rapid antigen testing will be available more widely in New Zealand, and will be used as part of the Government’s Omicron response, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Thursday.

Ardern said there are currently 4.6 million rapid antigen tests (RATs) in New Zealand, and there were “10s of millions on order”. . .

But the bad news is that on order could be too late.

National leader Christopher Luxon said the revelation that there were 4.6 million rapid tests in the country equalled “less than one per person”, and deemed the rollout “appallingly slow”.

“New Zealand has been slow on boosters and slow on vaccines for 5–11-year-olds and now we’re being appallingly slow on rapid tests,” he said.

“To make matters worse, the Prime Minister still can’t outline how they will be used, when they will be available, and what isolation rules will be in place. She even thinks our current contact tracing system will work against Omicron.” . . 

She also thinks tests 48 hours before people board flights to New Zealand is good enough, a point Sir Ian Taylor disputes:

. . . Let’s start with the “unprecedented number of Omicron cases” that have caused the latest “change in plans”.

All of those cases have had to come across our border. To get here, just like Delta before it, Omicron had to hitch a ride with a traveller on a plane or a boat.

One of the reasons it has managed to make that journey to the extent it has, is because we had a testing regime that only required a traveller to test negative 72 hours before boarding a flight. That has subsequently been reduced to 48 hours, but that is still two days to catch the most infectious variant of Covid we have seen to date.

In the “151 Off the Bench” self-isolation programme that I undertook last year with the support of the Business Cross-Sector Border Group, we trialled an alternative to MIQ, which we called Self-Managed Isolation. Focused initially on business travel, this was a system that we believed could be expanded quickly to start bringing our fellow stranded Kiwis home as well; a system that could remain in place no matter what Covid threw at us.

For the 151 Trial, I took my PCR test at LA Airport, before boarding, where I could choose to get my result one hour, three hours or five hours after taking the test. I chose five hours.

Which raises the question: how many of the 300, highly infectious, Omicron cases currently in MIQ would have been picked up in a five-hour window, rather than the current 48 hours?

Perhaps that’s a model Professor Shaun Hendy and his team might test for us.
How different might our situation be now if the Ministry of Health had taken up an offer made in July last year to trial an FDA-approved, PCR equivalent test that has subsequently been approved for official use by countries such as Canada, Israel, Taiwan, the US and Singapore?

The test in question delivers a result in 30 minutes. It costs less than the current approved nasopharyngeal PCR test and independent testing has found that it has “the same diagnostic accuracy as a PCR test,” making it perfect for pre-flight testing, which is what Air Canada uses it for. How many Covid cases might have been detected had we implemented a system that delivered results a matter of hours before boarding, instead of days?

We can’t change the decision made a year and a half ago by the MOH to decline the offer to trial this test, but we can learn from it. Over the Christmas break, the company that made the original offer has confirmed that it still stands. The owner of the company has been coming to New Zealand for 20 years and his connection to this part of the world has meant that New Zealand remains a priority and he is prepared to do whatever is needed to accelerate the trial that he originally offered. . . 

Why wasn’t the trial done last year and why hasn’t the offer to accelerate the trial now been taken up?

There’s been weeks to watch and learn from overseas experience which has pointed very clearly to the need for rapid testing once Omicron takes off and the need to ensure there was no shortage of stock.

But once again the government hasn’t learned and is doing too little, too late.


Rural round-up

14/01/2022

Incentives working but more people needed for Otago summerfruit harvest :

Summerfruit growers in Otago are experiencing severe staff shortages, due to the ongoing impact of border closures and low unemployment in New Zealand.

‘We know it is tough for growers at the moment. Last season, they had the weather. This season, it is the severe labour shortage,’ says Summerfruit New Zealand Chief Executive, Kate Hellstrom.

‘Summerfruit New Zealand is working with other horticulture product groups and government departments to attract and retain as many seasonal workers as possible. However, due to Covid and its impact on New Zealand’s borders, it’s tough.

‘We ask that where possible, growers club together to make best use of available labour. But in saying that, we know that fruit will go to waste, which will affect profitability and morale, as some growers only have about half the staff they’ve had in previous seasons.’ . . 

More dairy industry workers needed ‘for farmers’ mental health’ – Gerhard Uys:

The dairy industry is calling for another 1500 international dairy workers to be let into New Zealand for the 2022 dairy season, with concerns that staff shortages are affecting farmer well-being.

Dairy NZ said recent labour surveys indicated that the dairy sector was short of 2000 to 4000 workers, the statement said.

New Zealand has its lowest unemployment rate since 2007, at 3.4 per cent. A low unemployment rate and closed borders meant massive labour shortage on farms, DairyNZ strategy and investment leader for farm performance Nick Robinson said.

Matt Zanderop, a dairy farmer in Waikato, said he had recently advertised for a local part-time position on his farm but that no one applied because there were no locals workers available to fill such posts. . . 

Environmental compliance still high in Southland – Sudesh Kissun:

Southland farmers are being praised for maintaining high environmental compliance during the 2020-21 monitoring year.

The 2020-21 compliance monitoring report, presented this month to Environment Southland summarised compliance monitoring, enforcement and technical teams’ activities.

Environment Southland general manager integrated catchment management Paul Hulse said that once again Covid restrictions led to significant disruption of the inspection programme, and therefore, inspection numbers.

“It has been another challenging year, however, the compliance team has managed the programme extremely well.” . .

Just how viable is the Tarras airport plan? – Jill Herron:

Jill Herron looks at the road ahead for the mysterious and seemingly unwanted airport in Tarras

Lifestyle blocks are continuing to sell around the site of a proposed international airport at Tarras, with newcomers arriving into a community impatient for clarity on the project.

Construction of this considerable chunk of infrastructure could begin in six years’ time, according to its proposers, Christchurch International Airport Ltd.

A three-year consenting process is due to start in 2024 for the jet-capable facility with a 2.2km runway, coinciding with sustainability and community consultation policies tightening across all levels of government. . . 

Landing at Minaret Station Alpine Lodge – Sue Wallace,:

You can escape the real world at Minaret Station, writes Sue Wallace

It’s simply breathtaking skimming over snow-dusted mountains, emerald green valleys and spotting tumbling waterfalls and meandering streams on the way to the South Island’s luxury Minaret Station Alpine Lodge.

The lodge fits snugly on the western side of Lake Wānaka between Minaret Burn in the south and the Albert Burn in the north.

Head swivelling is in full force on the 30-minute helicopter hop from Queenstown Airport to the remote highland retreat among some of the world’s best scenery. You just don’t want to miss anything. . . 

Propaganda films disguised as documentaries continue to take aim at agriculture – Jonathan Lawler:

At every turn, there is a new food/farm documentary coming out with sensationalist titles like GMO OMG and Cowspiracy. Thanks to the popularity of streaming sites like Netflix and the deep pockets of some interest groups, it has become easier than ever to get such a movie made. And that would be fine if there was any value and truth to what they show. These “documentaries” are too often light on substance and tap into very little — if any — reality about modern agriculture. And, as a farmer who is doing my best to build a sustainable and thriving operation, it’s crushing to see these kinds of depictions get so much buzz in popular culture.

Not long ago, I spoke to a teacher who had recently shown Food, Inc. to her class, and she asked me my opinion of Cowspiracy. I told her it was equivalent to what I shovel out of the cattle pens. I reminded her the purpose of a documentary is to document real-world experience, and even though most will be somewhat biased through the eyes of the filmmaker, these food and ag docs are most often marketed as the definitive answer on a particular subject matter (such as biotech, nutrition, or soil).

Consider a National Geographic documentary on crocodiles, for example. You don’t walk away saying, “Those crocodiles are evil and greedy; why do they kill so many buffalo and why do they trick them by pretending to be logs?” Of course you don’t, because the documentary director is just … well … documenting. . . .

 


Omicrony variant

14/01/2022

How not to shut down a story:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and fiance Clarke Gayford are refusing to answer further questions about the extent to which Gayford tried to get Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) for his friends.

On Wednesday the Herald reported a pharmacist alleging Gayford had tried to help friends get an RAT via a phone call and being “very unimpressed” when he was told that the health guidance was for a PCR test, rather than an RAT.

The friends were suspected close contacts of a Covid-19 case and current Ministry of Health guidelines say close contacts should get a nasal PCR test, not a rapid test.

The country was facing its first community case of the Omicron variant at the time.

In a Facebook post, the pharmacist alleged Gayford had said the Ministry of Health policy had changed and allowed close contacts to get an RAT.

Gayford admitted a friend had put him on speakerphone while in a pharmacy to discuss RATs, but did not give his version of the phone call. He apologised for any “confusion”.

On Thursday, the Prime Minister’s office refused to answer further questions about the extent to which this was a one-off occurrence, and whether it was appropriate for him to try to get the test.

Is a woman responsible for her fiancée’s actions?

No.

But when the woman is the Prime Minister the questions are legitimate and deserve an answer.

When other media approached the Prime Minister’s office about the story, the office refused to comment, but referred reporters to a statement issued by Gayford’s managers.

But on Thursday morning, Gayford’s managers were not issuing his statement – already published by the Herald – to other media, impeding their ability to cover the story.

In a news story, TVNZ’s 1News said it “approached Gayford’s management team for a response,” after being directed there by the Prime Minister’s office. However, Gayford’s management “refused to comment”.

Only in the afternoon were other media able to obtain the statement – after some had raised the issue with the Prime Minister’s office. Gayford’s management blamed the delay on holidays and staff needing to talk to senior management before sending the statement. 

Gayford’s management refused to answer further questions about the incident. 

How to make a bad story worse – try to keep it quiet, especially when there are so many questions that have yet to be answered.

Questions like:

Why would musicians think calling their mate who just happens to be engaged to the Prime Minister would help him get an RAT?

Why would the mate then try to persuade the pharmacist to give them the test?

This is a particularly nasty case of the Omicrony variant.

Apropos of the Omicrony variant, even if the musician in the pharmacy wasn’t from overseas, how do others in the music industry manage to get to the front of the MIQueue?

How can these people take precedence over New Zealanders desperate to get home and essential workers in sectors including health, agriculture and education which are desperate for staff?

And apropos of those oblivious to the plight of the desperate would-be returnees is the case of Labour list MP Marja Lubeck who spent summer in the Netherlands:

The list MP, who contests Auckland’s Kaipara ki Mahurangi electorate, was born in the Netherlands and later moved to New Zealand.

Lubeck’s trip is possible thanks to her securing an MIQ spot, allowing her to isolate upon her return to New Zealand. But the MIQ system is becoming increasingly controversial; regular releases of MIQ places are almost always oversubscribed, meaning many New Zealanders are barred from returning home. . . 

There is no question that she got that spot by anything other than luck but that is no comfort for the tens of thousands of New Zealanders who are stuck overseas and in far, far greater need of getting to the front of the MIQueue but who have had no luck in the MIQ lottery.

That she could think it was fine to compete against those people for one of the scarce spots shows a serious error of judgment.

Compounding that, what does it say about her judgment that she left the country in spite of the government of which she is a part having a travel advisory that very clearly tells New Zealanders to stay home:

Do not travel overseas at this time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, associated health risks and widespread travel restrictions. This do not travel advisory (level 4 of 4) applies to all destinations except the Cook Islands….Read more . . 

The musician made an error of judgement, Clarke Gayford made a bigger one and Marja Lubeck made two, all of which reflects badly on them and both Gayford and the PM compounded the damage by refusing to answer questions.

Could it be that compromised judgement is one of the symptoms of the Omicrony variant?


The Lost Country of the Pacific

11/01/2022

It’s Australia, but it could also be New Zealand.


MIQueue misery ‘obscene’

15/11/2021

An Auckland man with Covid-19 spent six days isolating in his car while tens of thousands of double vaccinated travelers who tested negative are still forced to face the misery of the MIQueue lottery:

Auckland businessman Murray Bolton says he has been “inundated” with requests for assistance from desperate, double-vaccinated and COVID-negative Kiwis trying to get through New Zealand’s broken MIQ system after his own successful court challenge, but that MBIE remains obstructive and “refuses to face reality”.

“My lawyers have been absolutely inundated with requests for assistance from people from all walks of life, both trapped in New Zealand and overseas,” Mr Bolton said. “A number of people clearly have grounds for self-isolating on their return which fit with the purposes of the government’s health orders and the law as outlined by the High Court in its decision on my judicial review. But they are still facing an obstinate bureaucracy that refuses to acknowledge the law or the reality of the virus in New Zealand.”

“The stories are heart breaking. There are so many accounts of personal loss brought about by this broken system, the furthest thing you would ever expect to see from the kind of society we like to think New Zealand is.”

Mr Bolton said he has personally signed off a number of requests to fund New Zealanders’ legal assistance in navigating the MIQ exemption system through his lawyers, Martelli McKegg who are working as quickly as possible to help those they can. This may extend to further legal action to hold the government to account.

“I have also shared my extensive investment in legal research on this issue with numerous people bringing their own actions, including Grounded Kiwis.”

“Let’s call this situation what it is — obscene,” Mr Bolton said. “Scarce room spaces and our overstretched health workforce are tied up babysitting perfectly healthy returning New Zealanders, while hundreds of vulnerable Aucklanders battling COVID are left to fend for themselves.”

“As of today there are 1382 New Zealanders who caught COVID in Auckland isolating at home,” Mr Bolton said. “And we know now that many are falling through the cracks, isolating in garages or cars, or suffering with severe symptoms but unable to get the attention of the health services. These stories are appalling, and particularly unforgiveable with the resources being wasted on MIQ.”

“Professor Michael Baker, one of the most principled and consistent independent expert voices since the beginning of the pandemic and certainly no COVID-appeaser, said today MIQ is ‘redundant’ for any double-vaccinated arrivals into Auckland.”

“Every Kiwi who has contacted us for help is double-vaccinated,” Mr Bolton said. “But they have had to endure, lottery after lottery for MIQ spots and been left disappointed and hopeless. People’s loved ones are sick and dying and they cannot get back to see them.”

“I also heard about people’s incredible business innovations and opportunities for the New Zealand economy, to keep going against the tide of the pandemic or to push forward into new frontiers,” Mr Bolton said. “But MIQ means business people are unable to get out of New Zealand. Others, who left in order to keep their businesses alive overseas, have been stuck outside the border and unable to get back for more than six months. Many of these people have empty homes sitting in New Zealand that they can easily and safely self-isolate in and be no burden whatsoever to the health system. Other people have obtained spots on global programmes, with potentially invaluable networks between New Zealand and the world, but are unable to be able to take them up because they cannot get home if they leave the country.”

“MBIE have not made any amendments to their website to reflect the outcome of the judicial review decision,” Mr Bolton said. “They are living in denial and trying to keep New Zealanders in the dark about their rights. There is no information reflecting the law that allows exemptions from MIQ on grounds other than “medical” grounds. MBIE is still rejecting applications with pro forma responses, plainly not having even considered them, telling desperate people that they have to submit information they are not legally required to, and even rejecting out of hand plainly eligible exemptions.”

Obscene is the right word for this broken system.

An email from National’s Covid-19 spokesman Chris Bishop says:

Did you know that right now there are just 35 people with COVID in MIQ in New Zealand (out of over 4000 people), while there are 1773 people with COVID isolating at home?

The New Zealand government is overseeing a ridiculous situation where people who actually have COVID isolate at home, not in quarantine, but fully vaccinated travellers who don’t have COVID have to go into MIQ.

This situation needs to change – not at some vague point in 2022 which is the government’s timeframe, but right now. By ending MIQ for fully vaccinated travellers to New Zealand, we can free up space in quarantine for people with COVID who actually need it. You may have seen the tragic stories in the last week of people isolating and passing away at home.

It’s not just National who says this is absurd. Professor Michael Baker and his colleagues agree that Public health would be better served by having MIQ rooms available for community cases, when their homes are not suitable for home isolation. . . 

MIQ for incoming travellers was sensible last year when the aim was to keep Covid-19 out of New Zealand.

But now with so many people stranded off shore and with the disease wide spread in Auckland and leaking through the borders, it is no longer working.

When there’s such a shortage of  MIQ beds they should be left for people with the disease who can’t self-isolate safely and double vaccinated travellers who have had negative tests should be able to skip MIQ providing they can self-isolate safely at home.

National’s petition seeking this has received nearly 90,000 signatures. You can add yours here.


Can’t get in, can’t get out

04/11/2021

Aucklanders’ hopes of being able to get out of the city by Christmas have been dashed:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s admission on radio today that the hard border around Auckland is set to remain in place over summer to unvaccinated people proves she’s prepared play The Grinch in order to mask her Government’s failures, says Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins.

She came without packages, she came without bags, she went on the radio, to make Christmas hopes sag.

“Speaking to ZM, the Prime Minister said: ‘We are looking at how, if you are adding on a testing regime, how you would manage that number and that scale of people being tested, but also, yes, using vaccine certificates is part of that, so, while we are still working on it if anyone wants to make sure they are able to leave over the summer, it’s another reason to get vaccinated’.

“The PM should be explicitly clear on whether Aucklanders will be free travel this summer.

“She says there are still issues being worked through on, if and how Aucklanders will be able to travel this Christmas.

“This just isn’t good enough. 

“National has called for easing MIQ so that Kiwis can come home for Christmas. Now we hear that Labour might not even allow Aucklanders to travel for Christmas.

“There are no excuses for the Government to still be working on major aspects of their so-called traffic light system.

“New Zealanders need certainty. People are planning their summers now. Families want to know if they will see each other at Christmas. If they don’t know what the situation at the Auckland border will be many people simply will not plan a family Christmas or summer holiday.

“Not only will that keep loved ones separated, a closed border will be dire for the tourism industries of places such as Coromandel and Northland that rely on visitors from Auckland.

“Most Kiwis have done the right thing and got vaccinated. We can’t lock up Auckland forever because the Government has set a vaccination target that is more ambitious than anywhere else in the world.

“National’s ‘Back in Business’ plan calls for regional boundaries to be abolished once an 85-90 per cent vaccination milestone is met, or December 1, whatever comes first.

“Labour’s target of 90 per cent for every single DHB is impossibly high, and some DHBs are so far behind it’s impossible to see the target being met anytime soon.

“Kiwis need a path back to normality. Summer is what we’ve been looking forward to. But it seems the PM wants to play The Grinch and keep us locked up forever.”

Tens of thousands of people can’t come home because of the shambles that is MIQueue and now Aucklanders aren’t going to be able to get out of their city when they want to:

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told Checkpoint the government is considering the option that Aucklanders have an allocated time slot to leave the region over the summer holidays.

The measure would reduce the risk of queues of traffic at the boundary checkpoints, as vaccination certificates are checked. . .

Reduce queues? How would that work? Another lottery like the MIQueue for people trying to get into the country? And what about the people from north and south of Auckland wanting to get through the city to and from Northland and Waikato?

What was he thinking? Was he even thinking?

National’s Covid-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop told Checkpoint he thinks the potential time allocation for Aucklanders to leave the region in holidays is “the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard”.

“MIQ is bad enough, with the lottery of human misery for Kiwis to come home to their own country. The idea that Aucklanders will be allocated by the government a week away or something, when I first saw it on Twitter… I actually had to reread it about three times. I couldn’t believe it. . . 

This government hasn’t the logistical expertise needed to enable New Zealanders to come home. How on earth do they think they’ll be able to get a workable timetable for Aucklanders to leave their city?

 


Too little, too slow

29/10/2021

Yesterday’s announcement of the prospect of shorter stays in MIQ will give little comfort to those enduring the MIQueue misery.

The Government’s changes to the cruel MIQ system are a start but they need to go much further and much more quickly, says National’s Covid spokesperson Chris Bishop.

“As I revealed last week, fully vaccinated travellers to New Zealand, with a negative pre-departure test, pose negligible risk.

“Just two fully vaccinated travellers out of 20,000 or so people who have been through MIQ since August 23 have tested positive on day eight or later, indicating MIQ could be reduced immediately to seven days without any real risk.

“While fully vaccinated travellers with no Covid have been spending 14 days in MIQ, more than 200 people with Covid have been isolating at home in Auckland.

Even if only those travellers who could self-isolate in that city where the disease is already widespread in the community, were permitted to do so, it would relieve some of the MIQueue pressure.

“The tragedy is that these changes could and should have happened much sooner. The Government only started recording the vaccination status of people arriving into MIQ from August 23. Why didn’t this happen sooner? The Government has never given an adequate explanation as to why it didn’t bother to collect the data earlier than August 23.

“If we had the data from vaccinated travellers in April or May, potentially tens of thousands more people could have come safely through the border much earlier than now.

“The Government’s changes should also go much further. This is about the bare minimum that the Government could have done, and it won’t help Kiwis offshore desperate to return home. The stories of human misery and hardship that populate the inboxes of Members of Parliament are harrowing. The sooner we can end this lottery of human misery, the better.

“We need to quickly move to a situation where fully vaccinated travellers from low-risk jurisdictions do not have to isolate at all, assuming they have a negative pre-departure and post-arrival test. National would introduce this once New Zealand is at 85 per cent fully vaccinated, which is only weeks away. This would mean thousands of travellers from places such as Queensland could be home for Christmas.

“National’s ‘Opening Up’ Plan also calls for travellers from medium-risk locations, such as parts of the US, the UK and some states of Australia, to be allowed to skip MIQ and isolate at home for seven days.

“It’s time we reopened to the world. We can’t remain shut behind the walls of Fortress New Zealand. Today’s news is a good start, but there is so much more to do.”

Halving the time people are required to stay in MIQ will free up some rooms – but many of them will be taken up with people from the community who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 so the change won’t do much to improve the changes of the tens of thousands of people forced to take their chances with the MIQueue lottery.

That includes business people, one of whom, challenged the government in court:

A High Court judge has ordered the government to take a second look at an Auckland richlister’s bid to bypass the MIQ system by self-isolating at his gated home following a high-stakes business meeting in the pandemic-ravaged United States.

Justice Geoffrey Venning issued the brief ruling from the bench on Thursday. He is expected to issue a full written ruling on Friday. . . 

Bolton, who is 73 and has received both Covid-19 jabs, sought a judicial review after the Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) rejected his MIQ exemption application. The landmark case argues that the system unreasonably limits citizens’ freedom of movement and breaches the Bill of Rights Act.

Part of his proposal was to take a private jet to and from the United States so as to reduce his risk of being exposed to Covid-19. Upon return, he and his partner would stay at their gated home in the swank Auckland suburb Herne Bay for two weeks – the same amount of time people are required to stay at MIQ facilities, if they’re lucky enough to get a spot – and submit to all testing requirements.

High-profile lawyer John Billington QC argued that his client would be more likely to catch Covid-19 if in an MIQ facility rather than following his own proposed plan. The Crown, however, argued that the biggest risk would be attending the board meeting in Boston. . .

Would the risk at the board meeting be very different from that of buying groceries or any of the other activities permitted in ‘pandemic-ravaged’ Auckland?

The government has made us fearful, boasting of the months of freedom we enjoyed while others were locked down last year, but unwilling to loosen control to enable us to enjoy some of the freedom those overseas have now.

As Russell Coutts says:

The fact is that people are living with Covid offshore and although some people, perhaps many, rightly remain cautious, life has largely returned to normal in many places. But that is not what we are being told here in New Zealand.

The erosion of our freedom of choice, freedom of speech and the loss of precious time with family and friends and all the other negative aspects of a lockdown should be balanced against the health risk of Covid. Imagine if we had invested the 1 billion plus spent each week on lockdowns on improving our health system, education or roading (we had 8 road deaths in NZ last weekend).

It seems totally insane that double vaccinated people are terrified of meeting unvaccinated people. Is that how it’s going to be for the rest of our lives? What about the people that have health issues and can’t get vaccinated? Are they going to be banished from society? (for the record I’m double vaccinated).

Finally the fact that the NZ government has now said that even if Auckland achieves 90% double vaccination that it’s people may likely still be restricted from traveling at Christmas seems like a total nonsense. (For those overseas people reading this, Auckland already has 93% first dose and 82% second dose vaccinated – the entire country has 87% first dose and 72% double dosed).

It’s also total nonsense and contradictory that double vaccinated people that have negative covid tests are being locked down for 14 days in MIQ whilst people with Covid are being allowed to self isolate in the community.

How New Zealand, a country where it’s people greatly valued freedom off choice…..how we even got to this stage of blindly accepting this sort of unilateral rule, power and dictatorship from our government is deeply troubling indeed.

 Fear was part of what got us here  – fear of the disease, fear of overwhelming the health system, fear of death.

As more of us get vaccinated, as many people with Covid-19 are at home rather than in MIQ or hospital, and with better treatments for the disease available, is that fear justified or has it become an overused  political weapon?


Let Me Get Home

26/10/2021

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier is launching a broad investigation into the Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) booking system after receiving hundreds of complaints.

Mr Boshier says he has identified some common themes in about 200 complaints relating to the booking system.

Many of the complaints come from people who are having difficulties around the world obtaining vouchers for places in managed isolation or have concerns about the booking system overall.

“The complaints fit into four broad categories – they claim the allocation system is unlawful, unfit for purpose, unfair, and poorly managed. I have decided to do my own independent investigation into them all.”

“One of the specific complaints is that disabled people are being disadvantaged. I have concerns about whether the online booking system is accessible and whether suitable alternatives are being offered for those who have difficulty using this digital platform.”

Mr Boshier says he has notified the agency in charge of the booking system, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, of his intention to investigate.

“I want to give the public some assurance that the MIQ booking system is working as well as it should.”

“While I could investigate each of these complaints in turn, I don’t believe this is the most efficient way of addressing any underlying issues. That is why I am looking at them together.”

“When a new complaint comes in, my team will assess whether it should be addressed as part of this investigation or investigated and resolved individually.”

Mr Boshier will continue monitoring the wider MIQ system to identify any other interventions that may be needed.

He acknowledges the MIQ system was set up quickly in response to an immediate crisis.

“Border restrictions, along with managed isolation and quarantine facilities, are going to be a fact of life for some time to come.”

“I want to find out how MBIE is responding to these concerns and whether it has a robust plan in place for allocating places in the coming months and years. If there is not, I will recommend it makes improvements.” . . 

The current plan is anything but robust.

Tens of thousands of New Zealanders are stranded overseas, many of them are in desperate situations, all are frustrated by a system that is not fit for purpose.

That people with Covid-19 are being trusted to self-isolate at home when those who are fully vaccinated, have a negative test before they board a flight and when they land, are still have to join the MIQueue to get home and are then subject to 14 days in MIQ makes it worse.

 


The vaxed and the vaxed not

09/09/2021

We’re going to have the option of a vaccination passport by the end of the year:

A vaccine passport is coming. New Zealanders will soon have access to digital proof that they’ve received a Covid-19 vaccination. Colloquially known as a “vaccine passport”, a government-run app will soon be as indispensable as a real passport for international travel. Many countries already require them to sit at a bar or attend a sports game. You can’t climb the Eiffel Tower without one.

Air New Zealand and Qantas have both announced that they’ll eventually require vaccine passports. Proof of vaccination is already a condition of entry for a number of countries around the world. Just as you can’t board many international flights now without the right visa, the vaccine passport will be added to your pre-flight checklist. . . 

It will start as a requirement for overseas travel but it won’t stop there.

The health ministry has been clear that New Zealand’s passport is designed for international travel and said nothing about domestic use. Based on how the passports have evolved around the world, that won’t last.

What’s happened overseas. The UK rolled out the passports for international travel, only to then announce that they’ll be required to get into English nightclubs and other venues in England at the end of the month, the BBC has reported. Despite criticisms, the government has said it’s the only way to reopen the economy safely. In many cases, private industry was ahead of the British parliament, with Premier League clubs requiring fans to show proof of vaccination when they reopened stadiums to capacity crowds last month. . . 

Sooner or later there’s going to be more freedom here for people who have been vaccinated and people who haven’t.

If people aren’t vaccinated because they choose not to be, they will have to change their minds or have less freedom.

But what about people who can’t be vaccinated, or who want to be vaccinated but can’t have the  Pfizer vaccine?:

As the team of five million flood into vaccine centres each day to get their shots, a small group are unable to get the Pfizer mRNA vaccine.

They are not conspiracy theorists, or anti-vaxxers. They just need an alternative to Pfizer due to an ingredient in the mRNA vaccine that allows it to be stored at very low temperatures without freezing. . . 

Then there are people who find it difficult to get to a vaccination centre, at least some of whom are Maori.

David Seymour raised the ire of many by tweeting the code sent to Maori allowing them to bypass the booking system.

The irate didn’t mention, or maybe didn’t know, that he is Maori. Heather du Plessis Allan pointed out that irony and added:

David Seymour is about the same age as I am, he’s Nga Puhi, I’m boring old Pakeha. Do you think he should get a Maori access code to get the jab earlier than me simply because he’s Maori?  

There’s very little difference in our risk indicators for Covid. 

Same age band, neither have health problems that bump us up the priority list, neither working on the front lines, neither living in over-crowded houses etc. 

Should he get an access code simply because he’s Maori?  

I think most of us would say no. 

Because everything about David Seymour’s life tells us he’s not an especially vulnerable individual. 

And yet he is lumped in as a member of a vulnerable community because of his tipuna, or ancestors. 

Doesn’t that show the foolishness of making rules based on race?

It does, and that code isn’t the best way of reaching those who are missing out.

If you want to lift Maori vaccine rates – and I think we all do – there are better ways to do that without creating the division that the government is. 

If the broader Maori community is statistically more vulnerable because it has a greater incidence of health problems or home overcrowding, give people with health problems or overcrowded houses priority access to jabs.  We already do this for age and health and pregnancy and essential workers so it’s not impossible to extend the criteria a bit. 

If the Maori community generally has greater difficulty getting to the jab, take the jab to them and every other community that has the same problem. 

If the Maori community has a greater distrust of authority, get marae to administer the jab and then while you’re at it, do the same at churches because we know evangelical church members of every colour also tend to distrust authority.  . . 

It’s not only Maori who aren’t able to go to vaccination centers. A friend who works in a medical practice had a phone call from a patient who is housebound.

If we’re to have as many people as possible vaccinated, there must be alternative vaccines for those who want to be protected but can’t have the Pfizer one; and vaccinators are going to have to go to communities and individuals who for a variety of reasons can’t, or simply aren’t, going to vaccination centres.

The government is also going to have to come up with something for people who can’t be vaccinated and something other than an app for people who don’t have smart phones.

Once everyone who wants to be vaccinated is vaccinated, those who choose not to be will find their right to that choice will almost certainly restrict what they can do and where they can do it.

It would be unfair if people who can’t be vaccinated or don’t have smart phones were similarly disadvantaged.


There are better ways to run MIQ

16/08/2021

The government’s be kind mantra doesn’t extend to MIQ:

A Napier father caring for his sick 11-year-old in the US says they’ll swim home if that’s what it takes after being declined an emergency MIQ spot.

It comes after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern received an open letter on behalf of almost 2000 Kiwis abroad calling for immediate and urgent changes to the MIQ system.

Maddox Preston was just nine when he was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour. He’s had four brain surgeries and two rounds of chemo in New Zealand but the tumour keeps coming back.

“The prognosis wasn’t good but hey we gotta keep fighting,” his father Chad Preston says.

That fight led Maddox, now 11, and his family to fly to the US city of Houston six weeks ago so he could undergo potentially lifesaving treatment.

Now they’re stuck there, unable to get a spot in managed isolation.

Their application for an emergency MIQ spot was bolstered by letters from doctors in the US and from Starship Hospital, yet it’s been declined.

“We’re not asking for any special treatment or anything like that, we just want to come home and continue to care for our son,” Chad says. . . 

If a child who had to go overseas for cancer treatment doesn’t qualify for an emergency spot in MIQ who does? And why when so many New Zealanders can’t come home are their exemptions approved?

. . . Although the names of those famous MIQ-wranglers the Wiggles, America’s Cup crews, actors, nannies and tribute bands have been well publicised, more recent events and programmes approved by ministers are less well-known.

On top of these pressures, public health advice on separating returnees is expected to lead to a 15% fall in supply.

Documents obtained by RNZ show overseas participants in a mountain bike festival are the latest group to be approved for places in managed isolation.

The Government has approved 70

foreign athletes and staff who will attend November’s Crankworx event in Rotorua for MIQ places.

Also on the approved list were 60 international competitors, staff and media taking part in the Winter Games starting in Queenstown and Wanaka at the end of this month. . . 

Day by day the list of New Zealanders who can’t come home and problems trying to get MIQ spots grows. The system is not fit for purpose  and there are better ways to manage applications including this one from Heather Roy:

New Zealand’s MIQ (Managed Isolation and Quarantine) is a shambles and I have a solution to propose.  Hand MIQ over to the airlines.

Imagine this. You are a New Zealand citizen or resident and want to come home. Perhaps because there is an emergency situation in your family or a loved one has died. Maybe it’s just time to return while the pandemic continues to ravage the world. You go to the airline website and book a flight AND an MIQ place at the same time. It’s a package deal. (BOOM, done! as my kids would say). A utopian dream or could this really be possible?

The reality is far from the scenario just described. For those who haven’t had to walk the MIQ booking tightrope it goes something like this. Travellers need to decide whether to book a flight first or book an MIQ slot. Neither is of any use without the other so there’s a chicken and egg dilemma. MIQ places are much harder to get than flights so most travellers book several places on the MIQ website with the intention of cancelling those not needed later. Then the search for a flight begins – travellers need to find one that arrives on the same date matching an MIQ booking arrival. This can take hours online. MBIE isn’t sympathetic to the matching problem, merely commenting new dates are released frequently. True, but irrelevant as new booking dates are often snapped up in seconds. Those not lucky enough to be online at the right moment miss out. It’s not uncommon for the website to crash and travellers can be penalised for booking too many MIQ places. One woman told me she had been banned from the website for a period because she had booked too many slots while she searched for a flight, unable to find any that landed on the same day as places she had reserved. In short it is a very bad video game of ‘Speed Dating Roulette’.

Daily there are heart-wrenching stories of kiwis unable to book MIQ places despite heroic efforts to do so. Many New Zealanders abroad feel they have been abandoned with an MIQ booking system that is broken, is fully booked for months ahead and when limited spaces do become available these are taken in seconds. A very frustrated group of kiwis living overseas launched The Grounded Kiwis Petition  a few days ago.  . . 

Last week we got a peek into how the future of travel might be which could include short MIQ stays and self-isolation for people who are fully vaccinated and have been to countries where the risk of contracting Covid-19 is low.

Those on the green list won’t be numerous which will still leave many thousands of New Zealanders trying to get home.

The swift and deadly spread of the Delta variant has put paid to ideas that life will get back to normal quickly. Medical researchers are now suggesting it could be several years before we’re able to travel freely again.

That requires more MIQ facilities, preferably at lest some purpose-built, and a much better and fairer booking system for MIQ.

It also requires those who hold sway over emergency applications to extend kindness to people like Maddox and his family.


Why were we waiting?

07/04/2021

At last we will be able to cross back and forwards across the Tasman without the need to quarantine from April 19th.

Why has it taken so long?

. . . On Tuesday Jacinda Ardern announced the Director-General of Health, Doctor Ashley Bloomfield, deemed the risk of transmission of Covid-19 from Australia to New Zealand is “low and that quarantine-free travel is safe to commence’’.

But on further inquiry from Newsroom, Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins revealed he’d been in regular discussions with Bloomfield for six months and the health boss’ “assessment that Australia’s a low-risk country has been consistent for some time’’.

The hold-up was Bloomfield’s advice that “the systems have not been in place to allow for safe green zone travel both ways between both countries’’.

The systems officials have been working on have been focused on airports and how travellers make the trip from one end to the other safely, keeping bubble travellers separate from other incoming flights that may have Covid-positive passengers, and the contact tracing and processes for opening, pausing and in some cases closing the bubble if there were an outbreak in either country.

Talk to airports and they’ll tell you they’ve had their systems ready to go since August last year when health officials gave the all-clear to Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington.

The only advice the Ministry of Health has come back to airports with since then is extra cleaning when the bubble opens up, and other routine measures.

In the case of Wellington Airport, no managed isolation and quarantine flights land directly in the capital from overseas countries, so mitigating risks around mixing up trans-Tasman passengers with those potentially exposed overseas is and always has been non-existent.

And despite the political pressure ramping up from both National and ACT, the Government has been happy to continue with the go-slow citing a “cautious’’ approach in the name of public health and safety.

The reality is other than tourism operators and those whose businesses are directly impacted by tourist arrivals, most other New Zealanders accept it’s worth taking the time to get it right. . . 

In other words the government didn’t want to risk any political capital, preferring to pander to the fearful rather than promoting the low risk of opening a Trans-Tasman bubble.

It put polls before people – the ones separated from family and friends, the ones who couldn’t get to visit ill relatives before they died, the ones who couldn’t go to funerals, the ones who missed celebrations.

And it played on the pandemic paranoia for political gain with no heed for the financial and emotional stress tourism businesses, their owners and staff are under nor for the economic cost to the country of the needless delay.


Announcing an announcement again

23/03/2021

This isn’t a parody account.

This is a mainstream news outlet announcing the date of a forthcoming announcement.

Meanwhile families and friends are separated, marriages postponed, and people aren’t able to visit the dying and attend funerals.

Add to the personal cost, the dire state of many tourism businesses which need a firm date so they can work out whether or not they can hold on to staff, or even survive.

We don’t need an announcement of an announcement, we need to know when we can travel across the Tasman without having to endure MIQ on the return trip.

Few question the goal of keeping Covid-19 out of the country, but most Australian states have had no community transmission for longer than New Zealand.

That all the government can give us is an announcement of an announcement of a possible opening of the border and that it is taking so long to allow a travel bubble with Australia is control freakery, incompetence, or both.


Petition to open Trans Tasman bubble

18/03/2021

Last week’s announcement of MIQ-free travel with Niue means little to most people when what many want is to be able to travel freely to and from Australia:

The National Party has launched a petition calling on the Government to get a move on with the trans-Tasman travel bubble, Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins says.

“There’s no good reason why we can’t have quarantine-free travel with Australia right now. Australia did it for New Zealanders last October, but our Government won’t return the favour.

“Australia has proven it can be done safely, but after nine months and 12 rounds of talks our Government still hasn’t moved.”

People arriving from Australia would be required to show evidence of a negative pre-departure test within 72 hours of travel, but not have to go into isolation on arrival in New Zealand, Ms Collins says.

“Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he’s keen for Australians to come to New Zealand and support our tourism sector, so what are we waiting for?

“Our tourism industry is on its knees, a bubble would be the lifeline they need.

“Managed isolation is overrun with long delays because 40 per cent of places are being taken up by Kiwis returning from Australia where there is little, if any, risk of Covid-19.

“A bubble will free up space, meaning more room for Kiwis abroad trying to get home and our critical workers.

“New Zealanders deserve a travel bubble with Australia and the benefits it brings. There’s no reason for the Government to continue to delay.

“Like New Zealand, Australia has done a great job at eliminating Covid-19.

“It’s time the Government takes the next step and opens up the trans-Tasman bubble.”

If the government could explain why it won’t follow Australia’s example and what is required before it does, we might be more patient.

But there has been no clear explanation and no attempt to explain the delay or outline a plan to let us freely cross to and from Australia.

The longer this goes on the more it looks like excessive caution is turning into incompetence.

You can sign the petition here.


Travelling Under the Social Influence

28/01/2021

Friends waited for more than half an hour for that classic photo overlooking Lake Wanaka from Roys Peak which features near the start of this video.


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