Too little, too late


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


24-hour Shear-a-thon to raise money for hospital – Shawn McAvinue:

The rural sector is uniting again to help those battling cancer in the South.

Shear 4 Blair 24-hour Shear-a-thon will run in the woolshed on Wohelo Station in Moa Flat on February 5 and 6.

The event is to raise money for the Southland Charity Hospital in Invercargill, which was established in 2019.

Winton man Blair Vining died of bowel cancer in 2019, after calling for cancer care to be equitable for all New Zealanders. . . 

Horticulture industry using fund to support growers impacted by Tonga eruption –

New Zealand’s horticulture and wine industries are calling for donations to support Tonga after the volcanic eruption.

The horticulture industry labour collective, made up of NZ Apples & Pears, NZ Kiwifruit Growers, Summerfruit NZ, NZ Wine, NZ Ethical Employers, and HortNZ, said it was saddened by news of the tsunami and its impact.

It aims to help the Tongan economy recover and is using the Growers Relief Fund to collect donations to support small businesses like market gardens to recover.

The fund is a charity that helps to support growers in an adverse event, with wellness or when additional support is needed. The fund also helps people working in the horticulture industry who need assistance, to help nurture the whole horticultural community. . . 

Mature lowland forest lost in Wānaka fire – DOC :

A popular Wānaka lake and track were spared during a devastating fire earlier this month.

The fire took hold on 9 January at Emerald Bay, burning 280 hectares of land and taking four days to contain.

The Department of Conservation said it was too early to know the full extent of the damage to conservation land.

Its Central Otago Pou Matarautaki/operations manager Nikki Holmes, said Diamond Lake and the Rocky Summit Track were untouched. . .

Beekeepers hoping for good flow – Tim Cronshaw:

Beekeepers hope a sluggish start won’t put the brakes on honey flows this year.

They want to avoid a repeat of the 2020-21 season when national honey production was down 24% to 20,500 tonnes, from a much better summer.

The average honey yield fell then to 25kg per hive.

Apiculture NZ chief executive Karin Kos said a late-flowering and cold and windy start has failed to assist beekeepers so far this season. . . 

A secret getaway to Mototapu track – Liz Carlson:

Perhaps the closest backcountry hut near the popular outdoor playground of Wanaka is one that you might not have heard of – Fern Burn Hut. Tucked away on a lush high-country station, it is the first stage in a three-day tramp connecting Wanaka and Arrowtown, which retraces a historic path in Central Otago.

An enjoyable day walk to the modern hut, it’s a great way to experience the beauty of the area, though it’s even better if you stay the night in one of the 12 bunks.

Most people walk the 34-kilometre Motatapu Track over three days, though the day trips and overnight at one of the huts are equally enjoyable. From Wanaka to Fern Burn Hut is only 7km and a couple of hours winding up and down over the beautiful land.

The track begins near Glendhu Bay in Wanaka, making it one of the closest and easily accessed huts from the town, and a great alternative to the busy alpine huts in summer  – you’ll often have the place to yourself. . . 

Going the distance:

Getting fast broadband to rural areas of New Zealand is the last great challenge for the country’s Internet network.

Former Prime Minister Sir John Key said last week one of the top achievements of his time in government was Ultra-Fast Broadband. The roll-out of fibre arrived in time to be a vital help for communities during Covid lockdowns and is now an essential service for all kinds of social and economic reasons.

But he said he was concerned about the rural/urban divide with a number of people unable to get access to fibre Internet.

Luckily there is already a solution for many rural properties as New Zealand’s wireless internet providers, or WISPS, are working to link users with quality broadband and which have been building their own networks to do this. . . 

Rural round-up


2022 will be tumultuous for New Zealand’s primary industries – Keith Woodford:

This year is not going to be just any year for the food and fibre industries. On the prices front, things should go well for most products. However, on the policy front, it is the second year of the three-year political cycle, and that has implications.

This is the year when key implementation decisions must be made on multiple political issues. It is all about setting up the glide path for the next election.

For the food and fibre industries, and this includes carbon farming, these key decisions have potential to determine the path for the next decade. I reckon there is going to be quite some heat, and I am not referring here to the weather.

First of all, the good news. . . 

‘I’m where I’m meant to be’ farm life works out – Sally Rae:

Central Otago agronomist Jaimee Pemberton traded the city for country life and has not looked back. She talks to business and rural editor Sally Rae.

When Jaimee Pemberton was growing up in Timaru, she pondered three very different career paths — agriculture, marine biology and drama.

Those diverse options could have resulted in very different lifestyles, but the 28-year-old former city girl has no regrets about choosing a career in the rural sector.

“I just think I’m where I’m meant to be,” she said. . .

Stag fetches $135k at annual sale – Sally Rae:

The first stag on offer at Netherdale Red Deer Stud’s annual elite sale at Balfour this week lived up to its sale-opening billing, fetching a whopping $135,000.

The 3-year-old stag, which attracted a “huge” amount of interest before the sale, was sold by David and Lynley Stevens to a South Canterbury syndicate.

Mr Stevens described it as a big, quality animal with a “beautiful” head, and one that he would normally have kept as a stud sire if he had not had something else in the paddock.

It was a record price for the stud which was holding its 35th sale. . . 

Free lunchtime chats to boost farmer resilience :

Three of New Zealand’s foremost motivational speakers on resilience and mental wellbeing will offer tips for farmers and growers in a series of free online lunchtime talks.

Isolation and the sometimes stressful nature of agriculture, with severe weather and volatile trading conditions out of their control, puts pressure on rural families.

“The added restrictions, health risks and supply chain issues of COVID-19 have added another significant layer to that stress burden,” Federated Farmers employment spokesperson Chris Lewis says.

That’s why Feds, along with the Dairy Women’s Network and DairyNZ, were delighted when a bid for funding from Worksafe’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund was successful. . .

Trev puts data squarely in the hands of the farmer with API :

Trev is excited to announce the release of its API, for the first time putting operational data squarely in the hands of the farmer.

The API development has been designed for farmers to build and control their Trev data, enabling Trev customers to automate data sharing within their own systems or to permission data to be shared with approved industry partners.

Trev customers have always enjoyed the benefit of building their own datasets and extracting insights directly from the Trev platform. This new API means farmers can now automatically transfer data to other platforms and services internally and externally, reducing their data burden.

Data can be taken directly from Trev’s platform and plugged into a farming business’ own internal systems and processes. Or should a customer choose, Trev has the ability to send farmer permissioned data to approved industry partner integrations. . .

Dairy farm gets $150G state grant to better manage cow manure:

Mecox Bay Dairy, a multigeneration family farm established in 1875, was a dairy until the 1950s, then a commodity potato grower before returning to cows in 2003. The farm, a rural expanse surrounded by multimillion dollar Hamptons homes, raises cows for beef and cheese and is one of a handful of Long Island operations offering sought-after raw cow’s milk.

The money will help Mecox Bay manage the excrement from its 23 milk-producing Jersey cows, a small and docile breed known for its high-fat milk, and more easily turn their manure into fertilizer.

A 1,000-pound dairy cow produces about 80 pounds of waste per day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Unmanaged manure contributes nutrients, disease-causing microorganisms and oxygen-demanding organics into the environment, the agency said. . .

Restructuring system hurts services


Epidemiologists and politicians are telling us it’s when, not if, the Omicron variant of Covid-19 will spread through New Zealand.

Although some are saying that Omicron is more contagious but less serious than other variants, there are still serious concerns that health services will be over run.

The government has been telling us from before the first lockdown nearly two years ago, that the rationale for lockdowns and other restrictions on what we can do and how we can do it has been to ensure that health services aren’t put under too much pressure.

Given that, it ought to have been working very hard to ensure that health services and the professionals that provide them had everything they needed to cope with a surge in patients.

Instead, they’ve poured millions of dollars into restructuring the sector:

In 2018 the DHBs settled on a collective agreement for nurses, midwives and healthcare assistants with the complete implementation of a ‘Care Capacity Demand Management’ programme – a set of tools to ensure there are enough staff on shift.

. . . National’s Health spokesperson Shane Reti received confirmation from a written Parliamentary question that only one DHB had met the target by the deadline six months ago.

“Leading up to coronavirus there was very slow progress.

“This was specifically to reduce some of the risks around nursing staff being overworked in DHBs,” he said.

Just Northland DHB has 100 percent implemented Care Capacity Demand Management by the cut off – five were close at more than 90 percent.

The two worst DHBs were Canterbury at 49 percent and Waikato at just 34 percent.

In the response, the health minister’s office stated Canterbury and Waikato were late adopters of the CCDM programme.

The Waikato DHB’s roll-out was then further delayed by the cyber attack last year.

Reti said now is not the time for expensive reforms of the health sector.

“When the sector is already struggling for workforce, struggling to keep up with demand, even before whatever Omicron may bring towards us, this is a terrible time to be restructuring the sector,” he said. . . 

Maternity is one of the areas under pressure, even without Covid-19:

The temporary closure of Queen Mary maternity services at Dunedin Hospital is further evidence of Andrew Little being prepared to sacrifice health services over bureaucracy for his precious health system restructuring, says National’s Health Spokesperson Dr Shane Reti.

“The Minister needs to explain ministerial answers showing $60M of maternity action plan funding being put aside for health system restructuring.

“That $60M was important for core maternity services not health system restructuring and would go a long way to address concerns around midwifery capacity and conditions.

“It’s no wonder the health system is burnt out after 5 years of a Labour Government yet some of this could have been recently avoided if the $500M and funding for 20 Ernst Young consultants in Wellington to empire build a restructured health system had instead been used to build ICU capacity and increase the health workforce.

Unfortunately Andrew Little is trying to use a Covid crisis to justify health restructuring over health services, form over function, and property over people. This has all been cruelly exposed at Queen Mary Maternity Hospital in Dunedin and midwifery at large who now join 100,000 delayed procedures and 30,000 people waiting more than 4 months to see a specialist as testament to Labour’s failing health system restructuring.”

DHBs are far from perfect but spending millions of dollars on creating a centralised system with a separate Maori organisation with veto powers over the whole organisation would be the wrong answer at the best of times.

Doing it during a pandemic when everyone involved ought to be concentrating on core services will solve none of the existing problems and create new ones.



Not actively working


MIQ failures are creating mayhem and distress for families:

The Government has cruelly chosen not to fix known problems in the Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) online booking system that are keeping families from reuniting says National’s Spokesperson for Immigration, Erica Stanford.

“Resident 2021 visa holders and families of essential workers like our nurses and teachers who hold valid visas have been unable to book MIQ spots because the system can’t verify them.

“Resident visa holders were told they would be free to travel in and out of New Zealand like all other residents, subject to booking MIQ. However, a glitch in the system has locked them out of booking MIQ spaces and many who left temporarily are unable to even try to return home.

“The Government are actively are choosing not to fix this problem, telling those trapped offshore ‘although we are aware of the problem we are not actively working on fixing it’.

Only government employees, secure in their jobs, would treat people like this.

“Similarly, another MIQ glitch that has taken too long to fix saw essential workers seeking to bring their families to join them unable from being able to apply for spots in this weeks’ MIQ room release.

“Our essential workers have done everything the Government has asked. They’ve patiently waited for months to reunite with their families. Now the Government is telling them to continue supporting our COVID-19 response while telling them they’ll have to wait even longer to see their families.

Who was it criticised Australia for its treatment of illegal immigrants? Ah yes, it was our Prime Minister whose government is subjecting essential workers, here legally, to inhumane separation from their families.

“The Government’s failure to fix these issues with urgency is cruel and appalling – and is sending a message to migrants that they don’t care about them.

“This is a classic case of ‘computer says no’. New Zealand residents are being told they are not able to enter the country at all until the borders open – just because of a computer glitch the Government refuses to fix.

“I’m calling on Chris Hipkins to act with urgency to fix these issues and ensure New Zealand residents can return home and essential workers can be reunited with their families. We simply cannot afford to have more essential workers leave New Zealand because their families can’t get here.”

We are desperately short of essential workers in every sector.

The government, and its employees, should be doing absolutely everything possible to keep those already in the country here and enable the ones offshore to get in.

The MIQueue failures are causing mayhem and distress for citizens, residents and their families, keeping out people who want to come in and preventing those here from leaving for fear they won’t be able to return.

The increasingly dire warnings about the imminent arrival of the Omicron variant are a very strong signal nothing will be done to alleviate the problems soon even if there was a much better response than although we are aware of the problem we are not actively working on fixing it.

Not actively working – that could apply to the whole government.

Failing to prepare . .


When Covid-19 first struck and the government was requiring incoming travellers to self-isolate they relied on trust.

It often didn’t work.

The experience with the DJ who brought Omicron across the border shows they haven’t learned from that.

Why couldn’t they follow examples from overseas?

In Japan for example, someone I know moved there, had to self-isolate and for two weeks received video calls at random times to ensure she was in the apartment where she was supposed to be.

Friends in the USA who had travelled overseas had to self-isolate on their return and had to wear electronic monitoring devices while they did it.

That something similar to one or other of these systems isn’t available here is yet another example of the government’s failure to prepare.

Dare we hope they are preparing for community transmission of Omicron and the pressure that will put on testing services?

The Medical Laboratory Science Institute says the government needs to rethink who and how it tests for Covid-19, or it risks overrunning the country’s labs.

President Terry Taylor said the measures to combat Covid-19 spread were designed to prevent frontline hospital services from being overrun.

However, he said international examples show diagnostic services could also be swamped. . . 

One solution to that is access to rapid testing:

The Government must get ready for the transmission of omicron in the community by ensuring we have enough supply of rapid tests in New Zealand and making them available to vaccinated and unvaccinated people through pharmacies and supermarkets, says National’s COVID-19 Response Spokesperson Chris Bishop.

“Rapid antigen tests are widely available for the public to buy and use overseas, allowing in-home testing with results available in as little as 15 minutes. But public use of these tests are effectively banned in New Zealand – that needs to change.

“The Government accepts that omicron is likely to make its way into the community at some point. The evidence from overseas is that omicron spreads incredibly quickly – and it is likely that it will very quickly overwhelm our standard PCR testing and contract tracing system, which struggled to keep up even with delta.

“During the delta outbreak in August some people queued for up to 12 hours for nasal PCR tests, and many tests still take longer than 48 hours to be returned.

I was celebrant at a funeral last week. The dead woman’s only grandson wasn’t able to be with the family when I met them because he had a sore throat, wasn’t able to have a rapid test because he was vaccinated and had to wait for a PCR test result, even though there was a risk it might not be through in time for him to attend the funeral.

This restriction on RATs is an unacceptable level of control freakery that must be relaxed before there is widespread community transmission of omicron.

“Quick and effective identification of people with COVID will be vital when omicron hits New Zealand and this means New Zealanders need ready access to rapid antigen tests in a wide variety of settings including pharmacies and supermarkets.

“Rapid antigen tests are still effectively banned in New Zealand and the government has shown a real reluctance to use them. As the government’s own expert Professor Murdoch noted, we have been too slow to adopt tools like saliva and rapid tests.

Banning rapid tests when elimination was the goal at least made some sense. Banning them under a suppression strategy and with omicron on our doorstep makes no sense.

“Widespread availability of rapid COVID tests must be part of the toolkit alongside nasal and saliva based PCR tests. Under omicron, testing will be more important than ever.”

“We mustn’t get into a situation like Australia, where there are reports of shortages of rapid tests in various places.

“It appears we dodged a bullet a few days ago with DJ Dimension but, like delta, omicron will be back. The Government must use this time to get ready – and make sure we have a good stock of rapid tests in New Zealand and it needs to liberalise the rules around their use.”

The government was too busy congratulating itself to learn from overseas experience with Delta.

It must learn from what’s happening in Australia with pressure on testing and problems with accessing RATs.

Failing to prepare for this will be preparing for failure – again.

Not taxapyers’ wellbing


This shows no regard for taxpayers’ wellbeing.

He’s devastated


The DJ who has taken Omicron into the community says he’s devastated.

In a statement on his Instagram page late on Wednesday night, DJ Dimension – whose real name is Robert Etheridge – said he tested positive after 10 days of isolation.

“In line with the Government rules, I was in managed isolation for seven days followed by three days of home isolation,” Etheridge said.

“During this time, I received three negative tests and showed no symptoms. After completing my ten-day isolation, and of the understanding that I had completed my quarantine, I entered the community.  . . 

That was a misunderstanding.

A Ministry of Health spokesperson earlier told the Herald the infected person did not wait for a negative test result before they left the place they were self-isolating.

It was only a matter of time before Omicron crossed the border.

Now it has and the man who let it out says he’s devastated.

If he’s devastated how will so many other people be feeling?

This variant is highly infectious. It will be a miracle if he hasn’t infected people who will infect more people.

And among the others who will be devastated will be the tens of thousands of grounded Kiwis, stuck overseas at the mercy of the MIQueue lottery who will be asking how this man got into the country when they are locked out.

Misusing our money


God’s tech support


No Plan B


The Government had no alternative plan if its goal to eliminate Covid-19 failed:

The Government never produced a strategy for handling Covid-19 in New Zealand if it failed to eliminate an outbreak, Newsroom can reveal.

In response to an Official Information Act request from Newsroom, Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins said his office held no information relating to a suppression strategy for Covid-19 or to any other strategy that wasn’t an elimination strategy. The request sought documents relating to other Covid-19 response strategies between July 2, 2020, when Hipkins became Minister of Health, and September 20, 2021, when Auckland moved down to Level 3 during the Delta outbreak.

“After an extensive search through this office’s records, I can confirm that there was no information provided to my office relating to any strategy that was not an elimination strategy during the period specified in your request,” Hipkins wrote.

University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker said he was surprised to learn that the Government hadn’t developed a backup plan.

“I would think it would have been sensible to have a range of alternative scenarios and plan accordingly,” he told Newsroom.

“Once you had the Delta variant, it showed that viral evolution was going to continue and could result in big changes in the behaviour of the organism. All of the literature said this virus was going to be changing and I would have thought that, at the very least, you would want to have a plan after seeing what Delta was capable of.”

National Party Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop said the Government put all its eggs in one basket by planning only for elimination.

“The Government just bet the house on elimination and assumed it would work. Even after Delta arrived in MIQ in April and into the community in August, the Government just assumed it would work,” he said.

“They really should have been working on backup plans. By the time Delta arrived in New Zealand and into the community, it had already spread to basically every other country.” . . 

We’ve all been locked down – Auckland numerous times; businesses have failed, jobs have been lost, tens of thousands of citizens and residents have been locked out of the country and who knows how many others have been to afraid to go overseas for fear they wouldn’t be able to return?

Few people have died of, or even with, Covid-19 but how many people’s lives have been compromised or lost because diagnosis and treatment of other conditions were delayed? How many children will, or are already failing, to reach their potential because they haven’t been able to go to school? How many relationships have failed because partners have been kept apart, or forced to have too much time together?

The government’s failure to plan for the failure of its elimination goal has failed us all, at a very high cost to us all.

From fear to freedom


The government has done a very good job of instilling fear of Covid-19 in us.

It was an effective way of ensuring most of us complied with edicts about lockdowns, testing and vaccination.

The end of the Auckland border and arrival of the omicron variant with the knowledge that one, or both, will spread in the community sooner or later has stoked the fear.

Because of that yesterday’s announcement of delays to loosening of border restrictions wasn’t a surprise and was generally accepted as necessary.

But we can’t keep doing this.

Children are split from parents; spouses and partners are being kept apart; people whose jobs have finished are stranded overseas, some without funds or homes; others can’t get home to visit the ill or to attend funerals, weddings and other celebrations; people who need to travel for work or to visit families and friends can’t  unless they accept they might not be able to return.

A few months of this in the early stages of the pandemic might have been understandable but the failure to have no better plan to allow these Grounded Kiwis back to their homeland, and those here to travel and return, than the MIQueue lottery is not.

It is inhumane.

Meanwhile, those of us already at home, are looking ahead to a summer with a lot less freedom than we had 12 months ago.

This year was supposed to be better than last year. It wasn’t and there’s little confidence that much, if anything, will improve next year.

If we’re looking to the government we’ll continue to be fearful. If we want freedom from that fear, it’s up to us.

Those of us who accept the risk from the vaccine is less than the risk of Covid, can now get a booster sooner.

All of us can take what precautions we feel are necessary to reduce the risk of catching the disease.

Then we can get on with our lives, not as free as we’d like to be but at least free from fear.

More than a little late


The announcement of more money to increase ICU capacity is welcome but more than a little late:

The Government’s announced ICU spend up is one Christmas too late, National’s spokesperson for Health Dr Shane Reti says.

“By his own admission Andrew Little didn’t build a single new resourced adult ICU bed in Auckland in the 18 months before Delta arrived and the number of new build ICU beds in this announcement, across the whole country is only 31 new beds or roughly 10 per cent.

“This is a paltry figure when he was advised by specialists last year to triple the number of beds. If he hasn’t figured it out already, 355 negative pressure room ward beds are not 355 ICU beds.

The failure to act sooner has come at a very high financial and social cost.

“His failure to prepare ICU beds is one reason why Auckland has been in extended lockdown, why businesses have failed and why 100,000 Kiwis have had their procedures cancelled.

“Many of the announcements today are not actually new builds but “robbing Peter to pay Paul” by converting ward beds, administrative space and elective surgery beds into ICU beds. The hope has to be that these beds will then serve a dual purpose otherwise the lost inpatient beds will eventually add to escalating waiting lists for people to see specialists and have cancelled procedures.

“Andrew Little has said the first ICU beds will be next July which will be too late if Omicron lands in NZ. We need to see a delivery schedule and clear evidence that funding has followed the greatest need.

“When in government, National spent more than $200 million on health infrastructure in every single one of its last 5 years while at the same time successfully balancing service delivery and getting waiting lists down.

“What is also missing in this announcement here is the health workforce. Where is the health workforce to staff these announcements. Delta has been all about ICU and actually ICU nurses have been the rate limiting step however there is no evidence of any planning or funding to address this ongoing problem.

The government has only recently set aside MIQ spaces for ICU nurses but few if any have been used.

“New Zealanders can have little faith that the new announcements will be built on time, on budget and in scope given Treasury’s recent reports for the Ministry of Health showing that under a Labour government the Ministry of Health has gone backwards from a C to a D in Investor Confidence Ratings.

“Late announcements, poor planning, 30,000 people waiting more than 4 months to see a specialist – this is just another fail for Andrew Little and a Labour government that is more interested in health reforms than keeping New Zealanders safe during a pandemic.”

The funding wasn’t just for ICU, it was also for preparing hospital wards for Covid patients – again something that ought to have been done months ago. Instead tens of millions of dollars approved for dealing with the pandemic was misdirected to much less important projects like cameras on fishing boats.

The government has spent almost two years building up the fear of Covid and the risks that could come with its spread but has failed to bolster the health system to offset the risk and ensure that diagnosis and treatment for people with other health conditions wouldn’t be delayed.

Govt not following traffic lights


The criteria on which each of the three Covid traffic lights is based is clear.

At red:

Action needed to protect
health system – system
facing unsustainable
number of hospitalisations.
Action needed to protect
at-risk populations.

At orange:

Community transmission
with pressure on health
Whole of health system
is focusing resources but
can manage – primary
care, public health, and
Increasing risk to at-risk

At green:

COVID-19 across New
Zealand, including sporadic
imported cases.
Limited community
COVID-19 hospitalisations
are at a manageable level.
Whole of health system is
ready to respond – primary
care, public health, and

If the government was following the criteria it set most, if not all, the country would be at green but the government has deviated from its own system with several areas of the North Island stuck in red and the rest of us in orange.

I understand the reasoning – the government is worrying that once people are free to travel outside the red zones they’ll take Covid with them.

But if that’s the case, why will Aucklanders who are are red at home being permitted to travel to places that are at orange?:

We are one of, if not, the most vaccinated city in the world, hospitalisation and case numbers are dropping, the boundary is opening and we’ve got armour plating from free, rapid antigen testing, scanning, vaccine passports and social distancing, but still Auckland is left in the red until the end of the year to suffer a summer of pain.

“It does not make sense. It is safe for Aucklanders to leave the city from Wednesday and move from red to orange but unsafe for the city to shift to orange,” says Auckland Business Chamber CEO Michael Barnett. “We’ve done everything we can yet we’re stuck at a restrictive red light while modellers promote wild extremes of forecasts and count the days of an infection cycle.

“Small businesses, especially those in hospitality, accommodation and tourism, don’t deserve this,” he said. “And while we wait for the lights to change and wonder at the logic, Auckland will become a ghost town. Money and patronage needed to save local businesses, repay debt and recoup losses, will disappear into the regions.”

And why is Northland going to be staying at red when other areas, including the East Coast which also has a low vaccinate rate, move to orange on December 30th?

The government’s use of its own traffic light system doesn’t make sense.

The Government should move Auckland to “Orange” in the traffic light system immediately, rather than waiting another two and a half weeks until 30 December, National Leader Christopher Luxon says.

“The Government is simply not following its own criteria.

“By the Government’s own admission, the “Red” stage should be used when our healthcare system is overwhelmed and we’re facing unsustainable levels of hospitalisations – neither of which are happening.

“The Prime Minister spent a long time in her press conference outlining how the outbreak is under control. There are just 61 cases in hospital, with only four in ICU. The case numbers are fewer than the modelling suggests. The “R rate” is now below 1. New Zealand is just 48,000 doses shy of 90 per cent of the eligible population being vaccinated. Auckland is one of the most vaccinated places in the world.

“All of these signs indicate Auckland should be in “Orange”, not “Red”, right now.

“The traffic light setting makes a huge difference to the economic viability of small businesses, including hospitality. Many of those businesses will be beyond frustrated at being given a glimpse of further freedoms but having to wait another 17 days, despite being at their peak summer trading period.

“Today was yet another announcement of a future announcement.

“The Government should also drop the idea of continuing to enforce the Auckland border over summer. It simply doesn’t make sense to delay Aucklanders for hours in their cars to check whether they’re vaccinated or have had a recent rapid antigen test. The costs of doing this simply outweigh the marginal benefits of doing so.

“Around 600 police officers will be involved in manning the Auckland border over summer or working in MIQ. Every police officer on the Auckland border is a police officer pulled away from tackling real crime around the country.

“The traffic light framework will only enjoy public confidence and support if the decisions made under it make sense. The Government simply aren’t following their own criteria, which will leave many New Zealanders wondering what the purpose of the criteria even is.”

If the government isn’t following its own rules, how can it expect us to?

The criteria is clear but the government’s interpretation of it is not.

We’re all paying for that with a loss of freedom; some are paying a lot more with a loss of businesses and jobs and the government’s eroding its own social licence by creating chaos and confusion.

Tech troubles could have been avoided


Sir Ian Taylor’s letter to the PM shows he is understandably less than impressed with the government’s technology:

. . .I am not sure whether it was his office that provided you with the official response to the inevitable questions that were asked about how a site that had almost two years to be readied for its reopening, crashed within seconds.

Wherever it came from, the answer you were provided with was not great.

Your exact words were: – “We had anticipated that this may potentially be an issue – we just ask people to be patient.”

How were we meant to interpret that from someone who has the full backing of the entire government civil service behind them – “Sorry but this is your fault. You shouldn’t have logged on when we said you could. You should have known it would crash; we did!”

If the problem was anticipated why wasn’t it fixed before the site went live?

Why didn’t the people designing the system make sure there would be no problems?

Such incompetence in the private sector wouldn’t be tolerated, why is it in the public sector?

The missteps on the technology front, as far as the Covid response has been concerned, are becoming too numerous to count, but here are some to consider as your advisers continue to turn down offers of help.

An MIQ booking system that meant that someone who wanted to go to a cricket match in Australia has the same chance of getting a spot as someone who hadn’t seen their family for two years! An MIQ system that people with money could pay someone else hundreds of dollars to jump the queue for them. An MIQ system that came up with a Virtual Lobby that allowed you to make up as many passports as you liked because it wasn’t actually linked to the passport database.

A Vaccine Passport system that allows people to download a pdf that can be altered using standard editing software. A Vaccine Passport system that does not require a photograph to confirm you are the person holding the passport to help make the job of overstretched staff at vaccine mandated venues easier.

And now, the acknowledgement from our PM that you are happy for them to launch sites that they expect to crash. Really! This is our money you are spending – where is the accountability?

I don’t profess to be an expert on many things, but I think I have earned the right to have a voice when it comes to technology. We have built and launched a number of websites over the years. One of the latest was an interactive golfing platform called Tourcast which launched flawlessly with hundreds of thousands of simultaneous users accessing video, real time 3D graphics and data, for any player, on any hole, for every shot in a golf tournament.

When we launched it, to a global audience, we did not “anticipate” that it would crash. Our client did not “anticipate” that it would crash, and our users definitely did not “anticipate” that it would crash. Nor did we ‘anticipate’ that it would win an Emmy Award – but it did.

With the government site that crashed on Wednesday we are talking about a reported user base of 15,000 people accessing a site that you had two years to get ready!

This from the Ministry that continues to turn down genuine offers of help from businesses that are becoming increasingly frustrated by the “thanks – but no thanks” responses we get from your advisers. . .

Is it control freakery or a special kind of stupid that prevents people in the MInistry from knowing what they don’t know and seeking help from people who know much more?

Whatever it is, it’s not confined to technology.

And on a separate – “thanks but no thanks” note, were you aware that on July 10th 2020, in reply to an offer from the CEO of a US-based medical company (who has been coming to New Zealand for over 20 years) to discuss an FDA EUA approved, PCR equivalent, 98 per cent accurate, on the spot, Covid molecular test that could be self-administered and took just 30 minutes to provide a result, Dr Bloomfield’s team sent this response:

“I thank you for your offer of assistance to the New Zealand Covid-19 response. We are currently examining a large number of testing methods and protocols to determine their reliability and appropriateness. We are not seeking further tests or testing methods at this time.”

We will never know what was meant by “a large number of testing methods” because that level of information is not forthcoming from the MoH. What we do know is that Dr Bloomfield’s decision to commit to one, logistically top-heavy, nasopharyngeal test that now has people waiting for days to get a result, has meant that we have one of the least effective testing regimes in the world.

The test his team declined to even discuss has now been trialled and is being used with great success in Singapore, Canada, Israel, Taiwan, and the United States, where President Biden has just acknowledged the importance of testing by announcing that no one will be able to enter the US who hasn’t had a negative result within one day before boarding their flight.

I almost missed my flight to LA because it took three days to get my official test result, so getting to the US from New Zealand just got harder because your officials still believe they don’t need our help.

In less than two weeks, the Aucklanders who are double vaccinated or have had a negative Covid test within 72 hours will be free to travel throughout the country again.

The risk of at least some of them bringing the disease with them would be much, much lower if all of them had to have a negative test just 30 minutes before travelling.

If the politicians and the bureaucrats had listened to the people who know more than them and accepted their help this would have been possible.

But they didn’t.

Last summer they were congratulating themselves and telling us how lucky we were to be enjoying a Covid-free summer.

Had they listened to the experts congratulations might have been in order for another Covid-free summer.

But they didn’t listen and it won’t be Covid-free.

More vaccinated in hospital but



More people in hospital are vaccinated than unvaccinated, but that tells only part of the story.

The other part is that more people are vaccinated but a bigger proportion of the unvaccinated are hopsitalised (50%) with Covid-19 than vaccinated (10%):

Covid costs


We booked accommodation for our staff weeks ago.

On Monday the hotel emailed saying that all their guests must be double vaccinated.

We can find alternative accommodation for those who aren’t, but not everyone will be able to.

A business which has seven staff working nearly three hours away from their homes received the same message from the hotel where they were staying.

The business is trying to find a house or crib as an alternative. If they do, they’ll then have the issue of how to feed the workers when they can’t go to cafes or restaurants. If they don’t find an alternative the business is in trouble.

It already has a shortage of staff and doesn’t want to exacerbate that by sacking anyone. It is too far for the workers to commute every day and finding others who are both vaccinated and willing to be away from home for days at a time will be difficult, if not impossible.

The hotel which has just lost seven guests for several nights isn’t happy either.

There will be examples of businesses facing similar problems all over the country.

There will also be more businesses changing how they operate or closing:

A popular North Otago restaurant is among hospitality businesses in the South to decide against adopting vaccine mandates as at least two are set to close over the stance.

Before the traffic light system comes into force on Friday, the Otago Daily Times has learned of three hospitality businesses in Otago that have decided against implementing the vaccine pass and requiring customers and staff to be vaccinated.

This included award-winning Riverstone Kitchen, near Oamaru, which has opted to offer contactless takeaways rather than implement the mandate.

The Fort Enfield, also near Oamaru, and Tarras Country Cafe have both opted to close while accusing the Government of discrimination for implementing the mandate. …

I am double vaccinated and understand the reasoning behind vaccine mandates but I wonder if the government understands the impact and cost.

Many have already paid a very high price as a result of lockdowns.

The number of business closures has exceeded the creation of new firms for the first time in nearly a decade.

Data from Stats NZ and the not-for-profit organisation, The Facts, showed 64,809 firms closed their doors in the year ended February, while 64,488 firms were created, resulting in a net decline of 321 firms – the first since 2012.

Small business consultant and co-founder of The Facts, Geoff Neal, said the sharp increase in closures can only be explained by the pandemic, and the associated lockdowns and travel restrictions.

“There’s a very consistent trend that there’s about 60,000 businesses created per year and about 50,000 close, and this has really bucked the trend of previous years.”

Neal said the data did not specify reasons for closures but it appeared the level of exit sales and owners retiring had remained consistent with prior years.

Closures were most prominent in those sectors most affected by the pandemic, including hospitality, tourism, event, wholesale trade and fitness sectors, he said.

The consequences were devastating for many people’s livelihoods, he said.

“What we are talking about is not just businesses here, these are people, this is a lot of partners, husbands and wives, and families impacted, often multiple generations.

“Every time a business closes that’s lost wealth, health, relationships and sometimes lives as well.” . .

Even if/when we get to green in the traffic light system, restrictions will apply for unvaccinated people and businesses, and the people who own and work for them, will continue to pay a high price.

Complacency incompetence & control freakery


Sir Brian Roche has yet another report criticising the government’s Covid-19 response:

Sir Brian Roche warned lockdown tolerance was waning, the vaccine rollout was failing Māori and MIQ was causing social and economic harm, a document dump released on Friday shows.

The esteemed advisor also told the Government the “current outbreak has revealed the very poor level of preparedness of hospitals for Delta”.

Sir Brian reviewed the Delta outbreak and its impact on reopening the borders. He sent his advice to ministers on September 23 – two days after Auckland moved to alert level 3.

Tolerance and goodwill for lockdowns and closed borders were being challenged, Sir Brian warned.

“The current Delta outbreak has, to a significant extent, exposed urgent issues with respect to New Zealand’s preparedness for reconnecting.

“Delta has fundamentally changed the model of preparedness and response and we must adapt accordingly. We do not have a do-nothing option.” . . 

The lack of preparedness for Delta is matched by being ill-prepared for opening the borders:

Sir Brian also wanted the Government to begin opening the international border “to address escalating economic and social harms”, but said before doing so there needed to be a means for vaccination verification, “coherent and fit-for-purpose plan” for MIQ alternatives with saliva and rapid antigen resting rolled out widely “as quickly as possible”.

“Rapid antigen testing is a critical prerequisite – we cannot afford the delays in its introduction that have been experienced with saliva testing.”

The Government only rolled out vaccine passes on November 17 and announced changes to MIQ alternatives and rapid antigen testing this week – two months after getting that advice.

To address the issues Sir Brian wanted a fit-for-purpose COVID agency or response unit because the current model “is failing and will fail” when the country reopens.

“We recommend that this unit is put in place before the end of the vaccination rollout as the current arrangements put the country at unnecessary risk.”

The lack of preparedness is partly due to complacency – all the time wasted last year that led to the delay in the vaccine strollout.

There are also elements of incompetence, especially around the delays in saliva testing and rapid antigen testing.

The costs of that have been compounded by control freakery:

Newshub can reveal Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield advised the Government “the rest of New Zealand could move to Alert Level 1” back in September. 

The Government dropped a heap of documents related to the COVID-19 Delta outbreak response on Friday, revealing behind-the-scenes advice from the Ministry of Health that informed alert level decisions. 

In a document dated September 12, Dr Bloomfield advised Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Cabinet that Auckland could shift to alert level 3 while “the rest of New Zealand could move to Alert Level 1”.  . . 

Keeping Auckland at level 4 and the rest of New Zealand at level 2 for longer than advised  has been very expensive in both economic and human terms.

All sorts of events have been cancelled, businesses have failed, wedding services and funerals have had restricted numbers or been postponed because of restrictions on what can operate and how many people can gather.

The financial losses and emotional strain of this are incalculable.

But the biggest cost could yet be political.

The government has told us time and time again it’s following medical advice but this information dump shows that at least in this case it wasn’t.

So what was driving this very costly decision?

It wasn’t complacency, it might not have been incompetence – it looks very like control freakery as does yesterday’s traffic light announcement.


Rural round-up


Surge of demand for NZ meat, continuing supply chain disruption predicted for 2022 :

Disruption that has permeated primary sectors throughout 2021 will persist next year, a report from rural lender Rabobank says.

Demand was strong and set to grow further as economies continued to reopen, and balancing high costs through the supply chain would be a key challenge according to the Global Animal Protein Outlook report.

Rabobank global strategist for animal protein Justin Sherrard said changes within the market would be an opportunity for growth, rather than solely a risk.

“Rabobank sees agile business leadership as the most likely route to sustainable growth and is advising firms to embrace consumer preferences for sustainability and to be prepared for a surge in demand as economies continue to reopen and adjust following Covid-19-induced lockdowns.” . . 

Groundswell here to say – ODT Editorial:

It was always going to be a hard act to follow.

After the phenomenal turnout for Groundswell New Zealand’s Howl of a Protest in July — estimated nationally at around 60,000 people — the probability of a repeat performance seemed less likely.

Yet the turnout for the second protest event on Sunday, dubbed Mother of All Protests, showed the depth of feeling that continues to exist in the rural community, as horn-honking tractors and placard-bearing utes rolled into towns and cities throughout the country. From humble beginnings, dreamed up by a couple of concerned cockies in the South, Groundswell has become a juggernaut and that has brought its own difficulties.

Unable to manage all aspects of it, Groundswell has been forced to distance itself from controversy — as claims have been made linking it from everybody from Brian Tamaki to other anti-vaxxers — with social media unhelpfully helping to fuel the fire of misinformation. Throw in some particularly distasteful posts from agribusinessman Ross Townshend, a former Groundswell organiser in the North Island who should have known better and who has been kicked to touch by Tatua, the dairy company on whose board he was a director, and it has not helped the Groundswell name. . . 

Forget Groundswell: now farmers are in a real fight – Richard Harman:

Forget the tractors and the angry groundswell signs; the real battle between farmers and the Government kicked off yesterday when farmers got the formal proposal to price methane and nitrous oxide emissions from their farms.

The stakes, both political and economic, are huge.

That much was clear yesterday in the immediate reaction of Federated Farmers who even though they have been involved in developing the proposal offered it only a guarded welcome.

Farmers have been offered two schemes to consider; one which would price the methane according to a complex calculation based on the Farm Environmental Plan of how much methane their farm emitted. The other is a more straightforward levy on milk and meat delivered to processors. . .

No rest for the wicked at Less Valley Station :

The new farm manager at one of New Zealand’s biggest sheep and beef properties in North Canterbury has hit the ground running.

As well as getting up to speed with a holistic grazing system established by the farm’s US owners, Michael Whyte is also dealing with extensive damage to infrastructure caused by devastating floods in June.

The down-to earth farmer is relishing the challenge of running Lees Valley Station.

“I’m enjoying the valley life, but it’s also the climate. I love the seasonal changes. You get up in the morning and you don’t know if it’s going to snow or be 30 degrees. It’s really quiet and peaceful too,” he says. . .

Heritage vegetables, vintage tools, full skirts and bonnets – Guy Frederick:

It’s hard to believe that on September 1, 2020 there was nothing but a bare patch of ground where there is now a thriving vegetable garden.

Six months later, in the historic Totara Estate just south of Oamaru, bees were happily resident, herbs in full flower, and big, blood red, healthy beetroots were being pulled from the soil. It felt like the garden had been there for a mighty long time.

“We have to get cracking,” Alison Albiston had said in early September when she first visited the site, referring to summer’s imminent arrival.

Headhunted by Totara Estate Manager Keren Mackay and resident guide and cook Annie Baxter, Albiston jumped at the opportunity to get stuck into a project involving soils and plants, coinciding with her move into Oamaru after 45 years of country living at Burnside Homestead, inland from Oamaru, where Albiston and her husband Bruce lovingly restored the property to its original plans. . .

Halal certified red meat exports jump  :

Halal-certified red meat exports increased 13 per cent during the 2020-2021 season with most product going to non-Muslim markets, according to an analysis by the Meat Industry Association (MIA).

New Zealand exported a total of 471,072 tonnes of halal product during the season (12 months ending 30 September) – 46.5 per cent of total red meat and offal exports. This compared to 417,323 tonnes during 2019-2020.

China was the largest market for New Zealand halal-certified red meat during the 2020-2021 season, purchasing 341,618 tonnes, 74 per cent of the total and a 23 per cent increase on the previous year.

The United States was the second highest with 20,042 tonnes, followed by Canada’s 18,945 tonnes, Indonesia with 17,604 tonnes, Saudi Arabia with 7,710 tonnes and Malaysia with 7,289 tonnes. . . 

Paying cost for incompetence


Kate MacNamara asks: Did scandal-mired former Health Minister David Clark ignore Pfizer’s vaccine meeting request?

Labour Minister David Clark was sent a key Pfizer letter on June 30 last year, in which the drug company pressed the head of New Zealand’s “vaccine taskforce” to meet and discuss its vaccine candidate.

Taskforce officials, however, were not equipped at the time to begin talks with the drug company, and over six weeks elapsed before a first meeting took place.

The Cabinet finally armed the taskforce with funds both to contract specialist negotiation expertise and to make vaccine purchases on August 10; officials signed a non-disclosure agreement with Pfizer on August 13 and a first meeting with the company took place the following day, on August 14.

Clark, the then Health Minister, refused to answer questions about the letter, including whether he read it at the time and whether he made any effort to hasten the readiness of the taskforce to begin meetings and negotiations with the drug company. . .

Clark’s press secretary, Sam Farrell, said Clark, now reinstated to the Cabinet with four portfolios, including Commerce and Consumer Affairs, will not answer questions about the Pfizer letter because, “[he] no longer has ministerial responsibility for the health portfolio …” . . .

But he did have responsibility at the time.

Pfizer’s June letter noted: “We have the potential to supply millions of vaccine doses by the end of 2020, subject to technical success and regulatory approvals, then rapidly scale up to produce hundreds of millions of doses in 2021. . . 

Once we came out of the first lockdown the government rested on its laurels, basking in praise for no community transmission (well apart from that which locked Auckland down again, and again . . ); and responding to criticisms that we needed vaccines sooner by saying other countries needed them more.

Chris Bishop, National’s spokesman for Covid-19 Response, said Clark’s “inaction” showed “unforgivable incompetence from a minister clearly distracted by other things at the time.”

“He should have been moving with speed and alacrity to get a meeting with Pfizer as quickly as possible. The fact that the Pfizer meeting took over six weeks clearly set us back in 2021,” Bishop said. . . 

At the very least it shows a lack of focus and poor prioritisation.

It’s unclear whether earlier engagement with Pfizer could have secured a larger quantity of early vaccine doses for New Zealand.

If in June 2020 Pfizer was telling the government it could supply millions of vaccine doses by the end of the year, it almost certainly would have done so had the government not delayed responding.

By October, New Zealand lagged many of its peers in signing so-called bilateral advance purchase agreements with drug companies for vaccine candidates.

In March the Government signed a second agreement with Pfizer to secure a further 8.5 million doses, likely on a delivery schedule for the second half of 2021.

The Government has declined to release the Pfizer contracts, citing commercial confidentiality. The first doses arrived in New Zealand in February, 2021, following Medsafe approval, and the Ministry of Health’s schedule shows that 1.5 million doses had arrived in the country by early July, 2021.

New Zealand has subsequently incurred a roughly estimated cost to the economy of some $10 billion through lockdowns and the Government has pinned reopening to very high levels of vaccination. . . 

Had more people been vaccinated sooner the latest lockdown could at least have been shortened and possibly avoided.

Instead we were all locked down for three weeks and Aucklanders have now been locked down for more than three months.

Delays in vaccination have been very expensive in both human and financial terms, and recovery from both the social and economic impacts will take years.

%d bloggers like this: