Abject incompetence

14/04/2021

The NZ Herald opines that unvaccinated border staff are our Achilles heel:

The red-letter issue in the Millennium Hotel chain of cases, however, is the lack of vaccination and testing which was exposed. Despite working in a managed isolation and quarantine facility, neither Case B nor C had been vaccinated.

Today’s Health Select Committee has discovered another vulnerability:

A security worker at Auckland’s Grand Millennium managed isolation facility, who tested positive for COVID-19 last week, had not been previously tested since November.

Carolyn Tremain, chief executive of the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) – which oversees managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) – made the revelation on Wednesday at a parliamentary committee.

Tremain said the worker was tested on April 7, which is when he tested positive for COVID-19. Prior to that, she said records show he was last tested in November, despite the law stating he should be tested fortnightly.

Fortnightly? why not saliva tests every day?

“What we have identified through the case investigation process… is that there are some inconsistencies in the recording of when testing occurs,” Tremain told the Health Select Committee.

“We don’t have evidence that testing has been conducted from our systems on the frequency that we would prefer it to be.” . . 

Prefer it to be?

That’s as weak as Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield saying he would have hoped the latest case would have been vaccinated by now.

Preferred and hoped are simply not good enough when the consequences of workers contracting Covid-19 are so bad not just for their own health but for the risk of community transmission with all the health, social and economic costs that come from that.

What makes this worse is the game-playing by Labour MPs in the Select Committee:

. . .But the committee hearing – a key opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny of officials – soon descended into a squabble between Labour MPs and National Party Covid-19 Response spokesman Chris Bishop, as his attempts to question officials on the shortcomings were railroaded by the Labour MPs interested in more anodyne matters. . . 

Despite the pressing issues, the health select committee, steered by Invercargill-based Labour list MP Dr Liz Craig, instead asked the officials to talk about the “basic science” behind how the managed isolation system had been set up.

For more 20 minutes during the opening of the session, Bloomfield canvassed the increased understanding that “airborne transmission” of the virus was a risk, and what was known about the spread of the more infectious B117 Covid-19 variant in India.

MBIE deputy chief executive Megan Main detailed the “customer journey” that returnees have, from learning about the MIQ system, to entering a hotel and subsequently leaving.

“That’s really, really useful,” Craig said, offering up a few more minutes for the speakers to talk about this widely accessible information. 

Bishop’s attempts to ask questions were frustrated by Labour MPs on the committee. A one stage, he was visibly frustrated, holding his head in his hands. . . 

“Government MPs need to reflect very seriously on the way in which they are treating the Opposition on select committees and shielding officials from scrutiny,” Bishop told reporters afterwards.

He said it was “quite staggering” that the security guard had not been tested for six months. 

And if that wasn’t bad enough it got worse:

How hard is it to keep a record of who the workers are, who’s been tested, when they’re tested and which ones are vaccinated?

This is basic record keeping. That it’s not happening shows the system needs far more checks and balances than preferences and hopes.

That workers aren’t tested as they ought to be and that not all are vaccinated yet is bad enough. That records are so poor no-one knows who is tested and vaccinated is abject incompetence.

This information came out in spite of attempts to silence the Opposition. I wonder if there was anything else that we need to know that would have come out had the Labour MPs not been playing silly games?


Still holes in border protection

11/11/2020

Another day, another report on holes in our border protection:

Health workers in New Zealand quarantine hotels are some of the worst protected in the developed world, according to a man in managed isolation who’s helped kit out medical staff all over the world.

Tim Jones says he predicted the current outbreak when he arrived at his isolation hotel two weeks ago, shocked by the low level of personal protective equipment worn by nurses, defence force personnel and border workers.

He was returning home from Britain after working for four years for a New Zealand-owned, US-based company RPB which provided protective equipment for frontline workers in hospitals in 50 countries, mostly the United States, Britain and Europe.

“In short, New Zealand has been the worst protected for frontline health workers that we have seen,” Jones said.

“I guess probably the biggest red flags were when we landed at the border. We only saw surgical masks, including on army people who were on the bus with us so obviously in close proximity, travelling to our managed isolation facility.”

He was “completely blown away” to find out from a New Zealand Defence Force contact that even staff who worked in Auckland’s Jet Park, where most people have Covid-19, were wearing the most basic surgical masks. . . 

Where’s WorkSafe when we need them?

Failing to provide border staff who are dealing with potentially infected people with the best PPE is a serious breach of employer responsibility. It is even worse for staff in facilities where people with the disease are quarantined.

If farms didn’t provide staff with good protective equipment when they’re dealing with dangerous chemicals they’d be liable for prosecution for health and safety breaches. Not providing MIQ staff with adequate protection from a potentially fatal illness looks like a similarly serious breach.

The Ministry of Health is urgently looking into whether to use N95 masks at the highest risk facilities, like Jet Park.

Dr Bloomfield said there was growing evidence workers who had contracted the virus at managed isolation hotels may have caught it from transmission through the air.

This is a case where precaution should come before the evidence. It’s much better to provide more protection than necessary than to wait until the need for it is proved or disproved.

The Nurses Organisation has been calling for the better level protection, saying it did not know why it was not there already.

It also wants an investigation into how all managed isolation facilities are being run.

This follows David Farrar’s revelation of this mismanagement of a man who flew with someone who tested positive for Covid-19:

I’ve been contacted by the family of someone who was in the same row as the positive Covid-19 contact on Air NZ flight 457 on Thursday.

They have been given different isolation instructions from every agency they have interacted with. They are so alarmed as the lack of coherent and consistent advice, that they want people to be aware that we still have systematic failures in our Covid-19 response, as we saw with the lack of front line worker testing. . . 

Theses are systems failures and each one adds credence to the belief that eliminating Covid-19 in the community and keeping it at the border owes at least as much to good luck as good management.


Another day another hole

26/08/2020

We’re supposed to believe everything form the 1pm podium of truth but how can we when there are another gaping  hole between what we’re told and what’s actually happening has been exposed:

 Despite weeks of telling the public that ‘everyone’ in managed isolation is being tested for Covid-19 on day three of their stay, the Health Minister has admitted he knows these tests are not compulsory and his ministry does not know how many people haven’t had them.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed in writing on August 4 that day three tests were not compulsory and the Ministry of Health did not keep records of how many people had not received them.

This is despite Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield saying on June 9 that “from today, everyone in managed isolation will be tested twice for Covid-19”. The national testing strategy also requires day three testing.

Covid-19 testing is meant to occur on days three and 12 of a 14-day stay in managed isolation.

National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says it is disappointing the Government spin machine continued to let the public think day three tests were mandatory when they weren’t.

“This is yet another hole in our border defences,” Dr Reti says.

“Recent revelations that not all border staff were being tested for Covid-19 were extremely disappointing given this is our first and most important line of defence against the virus.

“The Government’s complacent attitude to day three testing is equally disappointing. If we are truly a team of five million then we all need to take the game plan seriously.

“Day three testing is important. Dr Bloomfield has talked about how it is key to reducing the risk of someone leaving managed isolation infectious.

Someone positive but not tested on day three would have more than a week to infect others before the test results on day 12 were available.

“This is why National has reissued our request to re-convene Parliament’s Health Select Committee. We think it is important the Director-General of Health fronts up to explain the disconnect between the Government’s rhetoric on testing and what is actually happening.

“National will protect New Zealanders from Covid-19 and allow our economy to flourish with a comprehensive border plan that includes mandatory weekly testing of all border staff.”

The Minister’s answers are here.

Not only are people not being tested, border staff are waiting far too long for results when they are tested:

A senior employee in the managed isolation system says he has yet to receive the results of his coronavirus test 10 days on.

And neither have at least three of his colleagues.

The employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was tested at a pop-up centre at an Auckland isolation hotel on August 14 shortly after revelations 60 per cent of border workers had not received a Covid test.

On Monday, 10 days after his test, he was yet to receive his results.

He had also contacted his GP who said they had no record of him being tested on August 14.

As a result, he had been told to undergo another test sometime in the next week.

The man described the state of affairs as a “farce”.

“Something’s gone wrong.” . . 

Several somethings have gone wrong and something keeps going wrong.

But the news isn’t all bad – the Health Select Committee will reconvene next Wednesday, following pressure from the National Party and New Zealand First.:

National health spokesperson Shane Reti had written – for a second time – to the Health Committee chair asking for it to be reconvened. His initial request was rejected.

Reti wanted the Health Committee to call Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, senior ministry officials, and the Health Minister, to grill them on the Covid-19 response.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said it was logical for the committee to meet to canvass the advice of those people on the alert level decisions taken by Cabinet this week.

“Given the economic and health consequences of the Cabinet’s decision it is appropriate for the accountability function to be performed while Parliament is sitting,” he said.

Committee chair and Labour MP Louisa Wall said she was happy for the committee to be reconvened and would invite the minister and Bloomfield to appear. . . 

The Epidemic Response Committee (ERC) that operated during the first lockdown hasn’t been reconvened. The Health Select Committee will be the next best way for the Opposition to question the Minister and DG of Health.


Many reasons for border failures

24/08/2020

Steven Joyce has identified three reasons for border failures:

. . . First, the Government and its Covid response is being run by a way too small group. The Prime Minister and her group of three core ministers hardly trust anyone to make decisions outside their inner circle. While there is always a core group, in this instance even senior portfolio ministers are being sidelined.

The whole Government currently seems to come down to the PM, Robertson, Hipkins, Woods, Bloomfield, and the ever-present Brian Roche and Heather Simpson.  . . 

The upper coterie didn’t even trust the then-Health Minister to be in Wellington during the initial lockdown.

Keeping to such a small group is a a dangerous level of control freakery and reinforces the belief that Cabinet has a very few capable Ministers and a whole lot of empty chairs.

. . With something this big, it pays to take advice from all quarters and forget the party politics for a bit. Unfortunately, the current Government has remained intensely political and self-protective throughout the Covid response, while maintaining that it isn’t.

It’s particularly egregious that Ashley Bloomfield is being shielded from fronting up to a parliamentary committee to answer questions about the border breaches and the lockdown. He’s not a politician, he’s a well-paid public servant who currently has extraordinary power over people’s lives. He simply must front.

The government-dominated Health Select Committee has turned down National’s health spokesman Dr Shane Reti’s request for it to reconvene to enable the DG to be questioned and on Q&A yesterday Jack Tame said requests for him to front on that programmer have been refused.

Second, Chris Hipkins has a ridiculous workload. Speaking as someone who has held a few portfolios in my time, the idea that any single individual could successfully manage Health, Education, the State Sector, and Parliament’s business all at once is truly ludicrous. And so it has proven.

Chris Hipkins is a capable individual but he is clearly not completely across his health brief. On top of that, his statements this week suggesting first that conspiratorial rumours on Facebook were themselves a conspiracy, and second that the 1pm press conferences were the single source of truth — a statement reminiscent of Comical Ali of Iraq — suggest someone under a lot of stress.

If the already overloaded Hipkins was the only one capable of taking on Health, It indicates a serious lack of ability in Labour’s ranks.

Finally, the PM and her ministers need to stop thinking that politics is a game of how to spin your way out of absolutely everything. This has been their Achilles heel.

They have been caught too often saying one thing one week, and something completely different a couple of weeks later, all in the hope that the public have the memories of goldfish.

It is a politician’s job to put a positive spin on most things, but you can’t keep arguing that black is white when it obviously isn’t. If you try, people stop believing you.

Sometimes an issue is so serious or the failure so obvious that you have to drop the buzz phrases, quit the dissembling and level with the public. They may even thank you for it, and they’ll be more inclined to believe what you say in the future.

As it is, we are approaching a risky point where the public may stop believing the Government and its spin — which is tricky when you are dealing with a pandemic. . . 

There are more than enough examples of serious discrepancies in what the government and DG of Health have said and what was actually happening to undermine confidence – from the early days of lockdown when they kept saying there was enough PPE and flu vaccines when front line staff were saying there wasn’t to the recent huge gaps between the policy on border testing and its implementation.

Three big reasons for border failures are bad enough, but there are more, among them are the problems created by having 15 different border agencies dealing with different parts of the process:

National’s new policy to delegate or create an agency to be in charge of the border is exactly what is needed right now. Here is a list of all the various agencies doing various different facets of border control, with insufficient overall leadership or governance from any single body. It’s no surprise that the virus has reemerged!  . . 

This complex mishmash of responsibility and authority has been described as a spider’s web. That attributes far more skill and direction than it deserves.

There’s a pattern to spiders’ webs.

The only pattern in the mishmash of responsibility and authority for border control appears to be gaping holes and repeated failure to learn from mistakes.

And if we’re looking for reasons it’s hard to go past this government’s record of mistaking pronouncements for achievements.

Time after time it’s been so much better at talking about what it’s doing, or think it’s doing, than actually doing it or ensuring it’s done.


Blinded by the halos

18/08/2020

A very angry tweet demanded to know which journalist at a weekend briefing had the temerity to ask Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield if he would resign.

The journalist in question, Michael Morrah has broken several important stories over short comings in the response to Covid-19, most recently the ones telling us nearly two thirds of border staff hadn’t had Covid-19 tests; that the Health Minister admitted a tracking system for border workers wasn’t in place before ‘testing strategy’ announcement  and following revelations on The Nation he tweeted:

In response to the angry demand to know who asked the question about the DG, Morrah responded:

That resulted in more tweets:

 

Sometimes people in the media are guilty of bias. That is not the case in this instance.

Morrah has done what a good journalist should do – researched, found inadequacies and told us about them.

He is not the only one who is highlighting serious failings:

On Friday Pattrick Smellie wrote:

There is plenty of evidence in the bizarrely vague testing regime applied to New Zealanders working at the border that Pike River levels of incompetence and dysfunction lurk in the public health system and could yet be fatally exposed.

And in discussion with Jim Mora on Sunday Morning, both Jane Clifton and Richard Harman discussed the seriousness of the shortcomings: (3:34):

Clifton: . . . I think it’s pretty clear now that the Health Ministry has a pattern of, if not outright lying, then failing to supply the right information at the right time and I think it would defy belief to most people that testing wouldn’t be absolutely automatic and regular among border staff . . . I was against having a sort of witch hunt into what had gone wrong but . . . I think this is the last straw and I think we do need to have a few serious questions and consequences. . . 

Harman:  . . . If he’s (the Minister)  getting incorrect information he doesn’t need to resign surely, the person who needs to resign is the Director General of Health because he’s misleading his Minister and that is one of the most serious crimes that a senior civil servant can commit.  . . there’s been a pattern of this happening . . think about PPE, the original businesses about testing, Shane Reti again exposing the different versions of the truth that the Minister of Health presented over flu vaccines. It goes on and on and if you read again this excellent piece that Derek Cheng wrote this week about the difficulty of getting information out of the Minister of Health it seems that the Ministry of Health prioritises spin ahead of performance. . . 

This discussion sparked some very indignant responses from listeners, many of whom suggested that no-one should be questioning the DG or the government.

Perhaps these people have been blinded by the light from the halos some have put over the heads of both the DG and the Prime Minister which doesn’t allow them to see that there have been serious and repeated failings in performance.

Kate Hawkesby is one who has not been blinded:

. . . The left have mobilised into a tribe of such determined one-eyed acolytes, that their entire focus right now is to hunt down anyone daring to question the PM’s moves or decisions, and basically to eviscerate them.

Questioning the government makes you either a hater, a conspiracy theorist, a troll, or quite simply unpatriotic.

This venomous lobby group – includes many across social media but most of the mainstream media – has fallen under the spell too. The press gallery are most glaringly the people holding the government to account the least.

You’d think the media and government had almost forgotten about the existence of the silent majority. Those not on FB or Twitter, those not doing Instagram selfies with the PM, those regular everyday working mum and dads who’re looking down the barrel of an extremely grim economic future and are worried sick.

If people were allowed to dare question the PM, without the rabid left calling for them to be cancelled for doing so, here’s what needs answering;

Should Chris Hipkins be running Health, when he is also the Minister of Education, State of Services, and Leader of the House? We’ve already been through one incompetent Health Minister, have we not learned by now that it’s surely a fulltime job needing his full attention? And could I suggest may even be a contributing factor as to why the ball was so badly dropped on the border testing.

Why isn’t our contact tracing gold standard? They’ve had months to get it right.

What’s our Plan B beyond elimination?

Why aren’t we tougher at quarantine hotels?

Why have we come so late to the mask party?

Why is the chain of information from officials to government to public so slow?

How can we trust a government who got the availability of flu vaccines, testing kits and PPE gear so wrong first time round?

I’d also question the North Korea vibe coming from the 1pm pulpit. “There is only one source of truth,” Hipkins keeps reiterating in the manner of annoyed Dad. Unfortunately, not all their facts are accurate, just ask the seething Principal of Pakuranga College.

Likewise, many of the ‘we’re the first/best/only’ in the world’ statements, are not quite accurate either. It’s a tad Trump-esque. But it does play to an adoring base programmed not to question anything. . . 

Exactly who is responsible for the shortcomings will no doubt be uncovered when a journalist finds out through an Official Information Office request exactly what Ministers asked of the Ministry, what the response was and when all that happened.

Regardless of the answers, thanks to the work of Morrah and other journalists, we do know that we have been let down by lax practices at the border and if in the process they’ve tarnished the halos, that’s all to the good.

Many of us are biased, but that should not lead us to blind acceptance of whatever suits our partisan positions nor should it lead us to criticising the messengers when we don’t like their messages.

P.S.

What’s happened to Megan Woods? She’s the Minister in charge of managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) but has made no comments on the lack of testing of staff at the facilities.


Clark & Ardern doing a Pilate

25/06/2020

As a former minister of religion Health Minister David Clark will be familiar with the story of Pontius Pilate who washed his hands to absolve himself of any responsibility for Jesus’s life.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was raised a Mormon and should know the story too.

Both of them have washed their hands of the Covid-19 response omnishambles and sheeted all responsibility home on DIrector General of Health Ashley Bloomfield.

Ardern was very happy to share the platform and the glory with Bloomfield when he was being sanctified at the 1pm broadcasts through the lockdown but won’t accept the responsibility for the omnishambles or hold Clark responsible for the disgraceful way he behaved last night:

Health Minister David Clark has brutally thrown Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield under the bus while standing right next to him, after the Government’s quarantine testing botch-up. . . 

Dr Clark pointed blame at the Director-General as they stood next to each other in Wellington on Wednesday. 

Newshub’s footage captured Dr Bloomfield’s face after Dr Clark told reporters, “The Director-General has accepted that the protocol wasn’t being followed. He has accepted responsibility for that.”

If you click on the link you’ll see the footage as Clark humiliates his DG whose face shows how he is feeling.

Newshub asked the Health Minister why he won’t take some of the responsibility.

“The Director-General has already acknowledged that the system didn’t deliver here.”

It wasn’t just the system that didn’t deliver, the Minister was’t even present to deliver when he should have been front and centre.

Dr Clark shouldn’t be so quick to lay blame.

If Dr Bloomfield hadn’t been forced to step up as a de facto Health Minister during the COVID-19 response because Dr Clark was AWOL, perhaps Dr Bloomfield would’ve been able to focus on his actual job – running the operational side of things. . . 

A Minister shouldn’t be involved in operational matters but does have responsibility for ensuring that the right processes and systems are in place and they’re operating as they should be.

As Toby Manhire writes:

“Operational matters” aren’t a get-out-of-responsibility-free card. “Operational matters” can be substituted in most sentences for “things that happened”.

Throughout lockdown it was obvious there were problems with supply and deliver of personal protective equipment (PPE), the availability of testing, contact tracing and frustration from health workers that the Minister ought to have ensured were sorted.

Instead, he wasn’t even in Wellington most of the time and now he’s back he’s rewarded the man who was on the spot by pushing all the blame on him:

Health Minister David Clark has finally turned up to work, and when he did, his first job was to throw his Director-General of Health under the bus, Leader of the Opposition Todd Muller says.

“David Clark’s treatment of Ashley Bloomfield is a disgrace. He humiliated a man we have grown to respect and trust during lockdown.

“While Dr Bloomfield has fronted up day after day, Clark hasn’t even bothered to look at the quarantine arrangements that are so vital in protecting New Zealand from the virus.

“Clark is the very definition of a ‘non-essential worker’.”

Mr Muller observed that while the Minister of Health’s continued, bumbling presence defines the incompetence of the Labour Government, he shouldn’t be the one who should accept responsibility for the furore.

“Did the Prime Minister know that Clark would be directing all blame on Dr Bloomfield?

“Jacinda Ardern is happy to take centre-stage during lockdown briefings but as soon as there’s bad news, she is nowhere to be seen.

“For Ardern, when things go wrong, the buck stops with the frontline workers, never her Ministers, never herself.”

Ministers should not only take responsibility they must act responsibly.

By washing their hands Ardern and Clark are failing to do both.


From bad to worse

18/06/2020

National health spokesman Michael Woodhouse was right: the two latest confirmed cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand did have contact with someone after getting lost on their drive from Auckland to Wellington.

After leaving quarantine in a car provided by friends, the two women got lost on the Auckland motorway system.

The friends who lent them the car met with them and guided them to the right motorway, and were in physical contact for about five minutes.

The National Party’s health spokesperson, Michael Woodhouse, told Parliament this afternoon that the pair had hugged and kissed someone on their travels.

That was after Dr Ashley Bloomfield said they had no contact with anyone.

The ministry didn’t confirm if they hugged or kissed their friend, and said it received the update this afternoon.

Woodhouse told Parliament a “reliable but confidential source” had informed him that story was “not all as it seems”.

“They did become disorientated and lost their way coming out of Auckland and needed help to get on the right road,” Woodhouse said.

“They called on acquaintances who they were in close contact with and that was rewarded with even more close contact – a kiss and a cuddle.” . . 

The announcement that the women had Covid-19 and hadn’t been tested before being granted compassionate leave from isolation was bad, the new information makes it worse and  this shows things can get even more worse:

Former police commissioner Mike Bush has admitted one person who should have returned to managed isolation after a funeral, is still at large.

The 18-year-old was part of a family allowed a compassionate exemption to attend a funeral. The five other family members are now in quarantine after avoiding their return to managed isolation “for some time”.

Initially all six were evading managed isolation. Then four family members returned and just two – an eight-year-old and 18-year-old were missing. 

The child has since been brought back to managed isolation and the teenager remains at a family property in Hamilton in self-isolation. . . 

Does the fact that it was a gang funeral give confidence that the teenager will self-isolating as required?

But wait, there’s more:

Newshub can reveal another serious blunder by health officials who have failed to follow their own rules.

A group of around 10 people, who were in quarantine in Christchurch, were allowed out early to attend a burial with more than 150 people on Tuesday. 

That’s despite the Ministry of Health announcing nine days ago that such exemptions were no longer permitted – leaving a funeral director and his team thoroughly perplexed. . . 

And more:

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier is furious that his staff were forced to mix at a hotel with people who were being put into quarantine.

Boshier told the governance and administration committee this morning that his staff had arranged to stay at a hotel in Auckland before inspecting a prison the next day a few weeks ago.

“Suddenly in the evening, all these people arrived from overseas to be put into quarantine and we weren’t told. So we were all mixed up with everyone else and I was livid.

“I had to cancel the prison visit the next day.” . . 

And in spite of the sacrifices we’ve all made and the dangers of importing new cases,  Covid-19 tests for people in managed isolation are voluntary:

As two new confirmed Covid-19 cases broke an almost month-long streak of no infections, people in mandatory quarantine have been told that swab testing is voluntary.

It goes against what many people believed was a compulsory test for those entering New Zealand – particularly those coming in from countries where Covid-19 has run rife.

Since April, everyone arriving in the country has had to spend 14 days in managed isolation or a higher level of quarantine if they have symptoms.

The Ministry of Health earlier announced that from June 8, all travellers who arrive in the country would be tested for Covid-19 at their respective facilities. . . 

But some guests under mandatory quarantine in Auckland hotels have revealed that they have been told the Covid-19 swab tests are voluntary – not mandatory.

A woman staying at the Grand Millennium, in downtown Auckland, said a pamphlet guests had received said the choice was ultimately theirs.

“I’m worried that they’re not testing everyone,” she said.

“Isolation is so difficult, but this one thing is not compulsory. This country is doing such an incredible job, we can’t mess this up.” . . 

The country has been doing an incredible job but the government and the ministry are letting us down and innocent and grieving families who are paying the price:

The Government has refused to apologise for the strict quarantine protocols, despite leaving would-be compassionate exemption recipients heartbroken.

On Tuesday, Jacinda Ardern announced that compassionate exemptions from quarantine have been suspended after two women were allowed to leave isolation without being tested for COVID-19, and later tested positive. . . 

“The important thing is to fix this problem,” David Clark said. “The director-general [Ashley Bloonmfield] has owned this failing… I have every sympathy for those people, my expectation is it will be fixed.”

Ardern said the case is an  unacceptable failure of the system” that should never have happened and “cannot be repeated”.

“My job is to keep New Zealanders safe, I know the decision to suspend compassionate leave will not be a popular one, but it is the right one,” she said.  . . 

What does it say about the competence of the people running all this when  the military has been brought in to oversee the border?

As more than 300 close contacts linked to New Zealand’s two Covid-19 cases are “encouraged” to get tested, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is bringing in a military leader to oversee the country’s isolation and quarantine facilities.

Ardern addressed media on Wednesday, as the fallout from Tuesday’s revelations two women were able to leave mandatory isolation six days into their stay on compassionate grounds continues to intensify.

Assistant chief of defence, Air Commodore Digby Webb, has now been called in to oversee border facilities, including how travellers depart from them. . . 

Most of us did as we were told in adhering to lockdown rules, at considerable personal and financial cost. Why hasn’t the government been doing what it should have been to ensure that the hard-won Covid-free status wasn’t squandered by slack systems and protocols with people coming in from other countries?

It took the detection of two new cases of Covid-19 for the government to take border security and isolation seriously yet the media has been reporting people complaining about lax standards at isolation facilities for at least a week.

As Todd Muller said:

“The sacrifice of the ‘team of five million’ cannot be put at risk by a clumsy and incompetent Government that allows bureaucrats to run the show by deciding which of the rules they are going to apply on any given day. . . 

Alex Braae echoes this in writing of an avalanche of incompetence:

It is staggering to see so many stories come out all at once, and many people will feel an uncomfortable sense of deja vu. I realise a lot has happened between then and now, but all of these stories feel deeply reminiscent of the incompetence shown at the border before lockdown started. Systems were theoretically in place, but weren’t being enforced with any sort of rigour or discipline, and it took media reports for those who were meant to be in charge to take notice. Readers might also remember that those blunders were arguably what necessitated lockdown in the first place. It’s not bloody good enough at all.

The government lost its social licence for keeping us at level 2 when nothing was said to deter protest marches.

It needs to get quarantine and managed isolation sorted because this week has shown how soon things can go from bad to worse and it won’t have the social licence to lock us up again.


How many more out there?

17/06/2020

Very soon after the Christchurch mosque massacres, people started asking how Brenton Tarrant had been able to obtain a gun licence. More than a year later, it’s found he shouldn’t have:

The March 15 terrorist was wrongly granted a firearms licence due to a string of police failures, sources have told Stuff.

The terrorist, who pleaded guilty to New Zealand’s worst mass shooting in March, was not properly inspected by police vetting staff when he applied for a firearms licence in 2017.

Stuff has been told that, among other errors, police failed to interview a family member as required, instead relying on two men who met the terrorist through an internet chatroom. 

More than a year on from the March 15 terror attack, police insiders say the error was the product of a long neglected police firearms system that did not have the resources to properly handle applications. 

“This was avoidable. If police had addressed some of the issues with administering firearms years ago, this could have been avoided,” a source said. . .

The Council of Licenced Firearms Owners (COLFO) highlighted shortcomings in the system in a submission to the Royal Commission into the killings last year:

COLFO chair Michael Dowling said it was clear that the alleged perpetrator should never have been deemed a ‘fit and proper’ person to own the guns and large capacity magazines used in the attack.

“He was able to slip through gaps created by a system chronically stretched by poor resourcing and funding, as well as a lack of expertise and knowledge.” . . 

“We don’t know the background checks into Tarrant, but we do know he had travelled to unusual locations internationally, was not a New Zealand resident for long and was not involved with firearms as a hobby.

“Despite this, Tarrant applied for, and received, his firearms licence in 2017.

“This raises serious concerns for vetting procedures and whether the 2010 police vetting guide was adhered to during Tarrant’s licencing process. We understand that his referees had never met him in person, nor did they include a family member.” . . 

Not having the resources to handle applications properly might be an excuse for delays, it’s not an excuse for failing to follow the correct procedure and for granting a licence to someone who so obviously didn’t meet the required criteria.

This appalling systems failure led to the death of 51 people and injuries to several more.

It also led to the contentious and expensive gun buy-back scheme that may have done no more than take firearms from innocent people and left more with criminals.

Yesterday we learned that another systems failure led to two people with Covid-19 being grant compassionate leave from managed isolation after arriving from the UK:

Two Kiwi women – one in her 30s and one in her 40s – arrived on June 7 on an Air New Zealand flight from Brisbane, before staying at the Novotel Auckland Ellerslie hotel in managed isolation.

The pair was given special dispensation to leave isolation on June 13 to support grieving family after a parent’s death in Wellington. Officials were adamant the pair travelled in a private car and did not use public facilities during their journey.

Bloomfield confirmed the pair was not tested for Covid-19 before being allowed to leave the Novotel in Auckland, but had complied with the terms of their special dispensation and underwent testing in Wellington. 

The women are now in self-isolation in the Hutt Valley.

“The relative died quite quickly, the exemption was granted and the plan was approved,” Bloomfield said.

“Again, I just want to support the efforts that these women have gone to abide by the agreed plan,” Bloomfield said. 

But the emergence of the two cases has sparked an immediate change in policy, with the Government temporarily suspending all compassionate exemptions at the border.

It would only be reinstated once the Government had confidence in the system. . .

Yesterday we also learned that two teenagers ran away from authorities after being allowed special dispensation from Covid-19 related quarantine to attend a funeral in Hamilton.

They have since been located and one is in managed isolation while the other is in an agreed community arrangement, director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield confirmed this afternoon.

He did not know how many days their whereabouts were unknown. . . 

Speaking to Heather Du-Plessis Allan on Newstalk ZB Tuesday evening, Health Minister David Clark did not seem to know about the runaway pair.

“I’m not aware of the details of that case…I have not had a briefing on that, I will seek a briefing on that.”

Clark said he was disappointed to see that the measures he thought were put in place to prevent another outbreak didn’t appear to be.

“If it is as you described it, then it underscores my request to suspend compassionate exemptions until we ensure that the system is working as intended.” . . 

Working as intended?

How hard is it to test people when they arrive and again before they are permitted to leave isolation or quarantine?

No wonder National’s health spokesman Michael Woodhouse is questioning whether the Ministry of Health is following its own protocols:

. . . Both cases recently arrived from the United Kingdom and left managed isolation on compassionate grounds after six days with no Covid-19 test. However compassionate leave to exit managed isolation can only be given after seven days and a negative test according to guidance from the Ministry dated 9 June.

“Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield claimed in the press conference that going forward they will now test on exit in case of compassionate grounds, but the Ministry of Health website said this was already the case and the ministry simply failed to fulfil its own procedures.

“It’s fair to expect there will still be the occasional case of Covid-19 pop up as we recover from the past few months, but we need to be positive that the Government has the appropriate protocols in place to identify and trace these cases so they don’t become a bigger cluster.

“New Zealanders have done the hard yards over recent months in flattening the curve of Covid-19, the Government can’t let this hard work go to waste due to sloppy lapses in procedure.” 

Covid-19 spread through New Zealand because our borders weren’t closed soon enough and people who came in were trusted to self-isolate themselves.

When the disease is still rife in so many other countries it is not surprising that people coming in to New Zealand have brought it with them.

But it is sheer incompetence that allowed people to have compassionate leave without being tested and let a couple of teens to run away after a funeral.

Tackling Covid-19 has come at a huge cost. Opening the border is necessary to help with the recovery and for compassionate reasons but it must be done in a way that doesn’t risk the spread of disease here.

The answer isn’t denying compassionate leave to other innocent people, it’s following the necessary protocols to test people, and get the result of the tests, before allowing that leave.

Police and health are two of the basic public services we should all be able to trust and that requires systems we can all have confidence in.

But the serious failures in these cases undermines confidence and raise another very big question: how many other people have been given gun licenses who shouldn’t have and how many others have come through the border and been let out of isolation or quarantine without testing for Covid-19?


Contradictions and confusion

03/06/2020

Police Minister Stuart Nash says the social distancing breaches at the weekend’s protest marches was irresponsible.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the marches breached the rules.

That was yesterday, after the event. Both were silent before the event when they might have been able to persuade people to protest in ways that didn’t breach the rules.

The PM gave us repeated warnings and guidelines for Anzac Day, why didn’t she speak up before the protests?

That she only voiced an opinion after the event is contradictory and confusing for those of us who thought we knew the rules and were keeping to the requirement to have no more than 100 people at an event and to maintain social distance.

But there’s more contradiction and confusion from DIrector General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield:

“There’s currently no evidence of community transmission in New Zealand so at this time, quarantine for 14 days after attending one of these outdoor events is not required.”

If that’s the case why are we still at Level 2 which is handicapping businesses which in turn is costing jobs and livelihoods?

But he says it’s still important that Kiwis remain “alert to symptoms and seek advice if they’re at all concerned”.

“Whatever the alert level in New Zealand, it’s clear COVID-19 will continue to be a global threat for some time and it’s important we remain vigilant – both as individuals and as a country,” Dr Bloomfield said.

“This means continuing to observe physical distancing to keep yourself and others safe, seeking appropriate heath advice, and most importantly staying at home if you’re unwell.”

Continuing to observe physical distancing – unless you’re at a protest or the PM or DG:

Photographs have emerged of the Prime Minister and director general of health posed for pictures close to wellwishers, prompting accusations of hypocrisy from a National Party MP warned by police for doing the same.

It has led to an admission from the Prime Minister it was a struggle to maintain “appropriate distancing” with people approaching wanting “handshakes and hugs”.

It’s been a struggle for the rest of us to maintain “appropriate distancing” at funerals and with family and friends but most of us have managed it.

Bloomfield also confirmed he was in a photograph with strangers but said it was only for a moment.

Northland MP Matt King produced the photographs after facing public criticism when he posted to Facebook photographs of himself with staff from a restaurant in Paihia where he had dined.

King told the Herald today coverage of the photograph led to a phone call from a senior Northland police officer who reminded him of social distancing rules.

“I felt sorry for the cop. He was a senior cop. He said: ‘This is not a formal warning – you’re standing too close‘.” . . .

It doesn’t help that there’s contradictory statements coming from the PM and her deputy:

With businesses hemorrhaging money by the day, the Government should be discussing the move to Level 1 now, not in a week, Leader of the Opposition Todd Muller says.

“The Prime Minister and her Cabinet could have discussed the move to Level 1 today. It’s not good enough that all they did was agree to meet again next week to make a call.”

National is demanding the Government immediately release the secret Cabinet papers on which it decided last week to stay in Level 2.

“Divisions between Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters are causing confusion about what the secret papers say about how safe it would be to move to Level 1,” Mr Muller says.

“The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have both read the same Cabinet papers but one is telling us it is too dangerous to move to Level 1 while the other says it would be perfectly safe.

“Moving to Level 1 as soon as it is safe is of the greatest importance to small businesses and the thousands of Kiwis losing their jobs each week.

“The public deserves to see the same advice Ms Ardern and Mr Peters are publicly disagreeing about.”

We also need to know the criteria for moving to Level 1 because it obviously isn’t what is on the Ministry of Health’s website or we’d already be there.

Alert Level 1 — Prepare

The disease is contained in New Zealand.

Risk assessment

    • COVID-19 is uncontrolled overseas.
    • Isolated household transmission could be occurring in New Zealand. . . 

Instead we’ve got confusion and contradiction over which gatherings can have more than 100 people and which can’t; between what the DG of Health says and what we’ve been told about Alert Level 2; and between the PM and her deputy and what’s on the website and what’s happening in practice.

The social and economic cost of this is far too high for anything but the clarity and certainty businesses need to make decisions and all of us deserve if the social licence the government lost at the weekend is to be regained.

Without it, more and more people are going to flout the rules in the certain knowledge that they, like the protesters, will be left to do as they will.

 


Good communication doesn’t confuse

29/04/2020

A few days before the country was locked down Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern explained the four levels.

As has happened so many times she was congratulated for good communication.

But a little more than five weeks later, Cactus Kate points that if what was said about what happens at which level still held, we wouldn’t be stuck in level three now.

You are already there.

You are already there

You are already even here.

We’ve been repeatedly told the reason for the hard lockdown is the goal of elimination of the virus.

As the definitions for yesterday’s word of the day, showed elimination for those of us who speak English means getting rid of something.

Epidemiologists and politicians speak another language and it was only a few days ago that we learned that elimination doesn’t mean the same thing to them as it does to us.

And on Monday, Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield and the PM told us that we had, by the epidemiological definition, eliminated Covid-19.

But yesterday we were told that wasn’t the case:

At yesterday’s daily press conference Dr Bloomfield was asked whether New Zealand had achieved elimination.

It was his answer that “we’ve achieved [elimination] through alert level 4” – and the Prime Minister chipping in that New Zealand “currently” had eliminated the virus – that resulted in yesterday’s confusion.

Realising the waters had been muddied, Dr Bloomfield arrived at Parliament today armed with a clarification.

Asked whether he accepted yesterday’s remarks had given the country and the rest of the world a false impression, and whether he was concerned New Zealanders would be breathing a sigh of relief at a time they should still be vigilant, Dr Bloomfield didn’t mince his words.

“I can just clarify we haven’t eliminated it, and we haven’t eradicated it.”

He said elimination is about having a low number of cases, and a knowledge of where they’re coming from and identifying people early.

Then it’s a case of stamping out the virus and continuing to maintain strict border restrictions to be sure no new cases are being imported.

Elimination is by no means eradication and the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this is a situation of entering into the world of epidemioligist-speak.

“And they know well what each of these terms mean in a health sense, but of course in an every day sense they mean, often, something different.

“Elimination doesn’t mean zero cases… we will have to keep stamping Covid out until there’s a vaccine,” she said. . . 

It’s not good enough to blame the jargon.

Good communicators put jargon into everyday language, using words that we all understand and whose definitions fit our understanding.

National’s health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said Dr Bloomfield probably felt the need to clarify on behalf of the Prime Minister.

“This underscores the importance of talking in plain English. The public are not epidemioligists, they don’t have the same information the Prime Minister has and it’s really important they get on the same page, talk in English, and make it clear to New Zealanders where we’re at and how we’ve got to stay there.” . . .

I think we’re now clear that elimination doesn’t mean what we think it means but, we are no clearer on what the levels mean.

We’re told there’s no evidence of community transmission and that the disease is contained. It’s not quite so clear whether no evidence means there’s no risk of community transmission or if we’re now down to the risk of only household transmission.

But if we can take the information on alert levels to mean what it says, it ought to mean we can go down to level two, if not one.

But yesterday we only went to level 3 and while there’s the expectation this will last no more than a fortnight, there’s no certainty.

Given that the information on levels is different from what’s happening, there’s even less certainty.

The communication on this is confused when it needs to be clear.

Good communication isn’t just about getting your message across, it’s also about ensuring the people to whom you’re communicating understand what you’re saying and clarifying any confusion when they don’t.


Contradictions and confusion still undermining confidence

14/04/2020

A good news story of a wedding under lockdown has highlighted the confusion and contradictions over what is an isn’t essential:

A furore has erupted among the country’s wedding celebrants after a North Shore couple were allowed to tie the knot at their home despite the nationwide lockdown.

Jeff Montgomery, the Registrar-General for Births, Deaths and Marriages, is standing by his decision to let the couple go ahead with their special day, sending an email to all celebrants today stating it is up to them and their clients if they decide to get married during the 4-week lockdown period. . . 

But the Registrar-General emailed celebrants later saying it wasn’t up to him to decide if weddings should go ahead or not.

Weddings have occurred recently, for example when one of the couple is about to pass away, or because of religious requirements.

“It is up to the couple and the celebrant to consider how essential the wedding is and to work within the level 4 rules”.

“It is not the role of the Registrar-General to make decisions about whether or not a ceremony occurs. ‘Permission’ or ‘exemptions’ are not something that I have authority to issue and I do not make judgments on what services may or may not be essential.

“My role is to issue licences where the couple meet the requirements, to register celebrants who are expected to abide by the law, and to register relationships that have been legally solemnised,” he wrote.

That’s quite clear, so who can make decisions about whether or not a ceremony occurs?

In today’s briefing with media, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said weddings could go ahead as long as they abided by social distancing rules.

That seems clear, but what does the Covid-19 website say?

All indoor and outdoor events cannot proceed.

This does not include workplaces of people undertaking essential businesses.

If a wedding celebrant was running an essential business that might be okay but:

These requirements apply to family and social gatherings such as birthdays, funerals, tangi or weddings. These gatherings can not go ahead.

We are asking you only spend time with those who you are in self-isolation with, and keep your distance from all others at all times.

So there we have it – the Registrar-General quite rightly says it’s not up to him to say if a wedding is essential.

The DG of Health says weddings could take place as long as people obeyed social distancing rules.

But the COvid-19 website says weddings can’t take place.

The confusion and contradictions over this provide more grounds for having the guiding rule for what can take place under Level 4 lockdown what’s safe rather than what’s essential.

Providing everyone involved took the proper precautions to maintain social distance and either wash their hands or use sanitiser before and after touching the pen and paper work, it ought to be safe to have a wedding with just the couple, two witnesses who were already in their bubble and a celebrant.

But under the Level 4 rules no weddings are supposed to be taking place.

Changing to safety as the guide rather than essential would not only allow very small wedding ceremonies to take place, it would allow a lot more small businesses to open again.

That could save jobs, and businesses, take pressure over businesses like supermarkets that are open, and get rid of the confusion and contradictions over what is and isn’t essential.


A pop of positivity

09/04/2020

We passed the halfway point of the four-week lockdown last night.

There is very little chance we will get out of lockdown earlier and it is too soon to know whether it might extend beyond four weeks.

The decline, slow as it is,  in the number of new cases of Covid-19 gives reason for hope that four weeks might be enough to eliminate the disease, or at least get the spread so low it can be contained and the likelihood of that would be increased if all new arrivals are quarantined.

National launched a petition on Monday  calling for mandatory quarantining at the border and it had an unprecedented response:

. . .With the large number of cases overseas, experts, like epidemiologist Professor Sir David Skegg, say a blanket quarantine is needed to ensure Kiwis with the virus don’t return to the country and nullify any success our domestic lockdown measures have had. 

Likewise, the National Party leader told The AM Show that implementing a mandatory quarantine was about making sure the four-week lockdown wasn’t in vain.

“As we make sacrifices as New Zealanders, as dads can’t see their babies in hospital, as people can’t go to their loved ones’ funerals, let’s do some of the things that really matter,” he said.

“We know where COVID-19 is coming in from, it is offshore, that is where most of the cases are. This is urgent.” . . 

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield also appeared supportive of tighter border control on Tuesday.

“I agree with what Professor Skegg was saying, that, actually, if we’re going to go for the elimination approach, which is our extended keep it out, stamp it out, and for when we move down out into Alert Level 3, we need to be very confident we are not letting new cases into the country at the border,” he said. . . 

In the meantime, business not as usual goes on.

The regular newsletter from my MP, Jacqui Dean is usually full of what she’s been doing around the electorate.

The latest one is different as she is working from her lock down base.

She, like other electorate MPs, has been busy helping people in need of support, information  and advice.

She has also had time to notice the good things people and businesses have been doing:

A pop of positivity

Cardona Distillery

I visited Desiree and the team at Cardrona Distillery last year. It’s a wonderful family run business and I was impressed (but not surprised) by their offer of free hand sanitizer to locals who need it.

Prince Albert

We humans are social creatures and The Prince Albert in Wanaka has come up with a clever idea to keep their regulars connected. They’ve moved their weekly quiz night online, something I suspect could be a highlight on many social calendars in the coming weeks.

Bringing out the books

Geraldine’s new bookshop The Page and Post Booksellers has been offering a daily story time session through its Facebook page. Cromwell Community Board Chair and Goldfields School Principal Anna Harrison has done something similar by reading children’s books and posting the videos on YouTube.

Whitestone Taxis

Whitestone Taxis have offered to deliver Meals on Wheels to people in Oamaru without taking payment from Waitaki District Health Services. This news left me in no doubt that there are some absolute gems in this electorate. What a kind and generous offer.

Supermarket superstars

Frontline supermarket staff all deserve a round of applause at the moment but I’d like to give a special mention the owner-operators of supermarkets in our small towns who are going above and beyond in taking orders and delivering groceries to those who need it. I started to compile a list of the towns where this is happening and it just got too long – a wonderful reflection of community spirit.

Digital Libraries

Here’s a quote from the Waitaki District Libraries website that couldn’t be more appropriate in times like these:

“Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.” ~ Anne Herbert

Their buildings may be closed but libraries are still there for you either on the phone, via email or social media, and you get your good reads using the digital platform.

Visit: https://library.waitaki.govt.nz/

https://codc-qldc.govt.nz/

#codclibraries #digitallibraryopen

When so much in the media is bad news, it was refreshing to read this pop of positivity and there’s plenty more.

Riverstone Kitchen chef Bevan Smith is live streaming cooking demonstrations.

Cucina chef Pablo Tacchini is live streaming cooking demonstrations too.

Netball NZ is offering free online fitness classes – Netfit.

Otago Museum has a range of activities including online jigsaw puzzles and Te Papa has online jigsaw puzzles too.

If you can add to th epop of positivity, pleaes do.


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