Regrets, he’s got a few


Former Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins has regrets:

. . . Asked if he had regrets, Hipkins said it is easy to look back with the knowledge we have now, but “you still have to make decisions based on the information that you had at the time.”

Hipkins told Q+A that some restrictions may have gone on too long.

“I think there were probably some areas where we could have moved more quickly to step down some restrictions,” he said.

“I think that lockdown in Auckland at the end of 2021 … I think nerves were pretty frayed by that and we should acknowledge that. Aucklanders paid a big price for our ongoing suppression of Delta while we got our vaccination rates up.” . . 

That begs the questions:

Does he also regret the slow vaccine rollout which is why vaccination rates weren’t nearly as high as they could, and ought to, have been when Delta got into the community?

Does he regret the mental, physical and financial toll the extended lockdown took?

Does he regret the lottery of misery that left people stranded without jobs and homes and kept so many people from coming home to be with seriously ill and dying family and friends, to attend funerals?

Does he regret the unfair and unkind exemption system that let hundreds of foreign DJs in but kept hundreds of pregnant New Zealand women out?

Does he regret the enormous economic and human cost of the extended lockdown and closed borders?

Does he regret the massive debts incurred by the Covid fund and the spending of a lot of it on initiatives that had nothing to do with Covid recovery?

Does he regret the slow approval and import of rapid antigen tests (RATs)?

Doe he regret the time and money his government has, and continues to waste, on restructuring the health system instead of strengthening it to cope with Covid-19 and the usual winter ills?

Does he regret not learning from repeated reports, and implementing the recommendations of them which would have reduced the impact of Delta and Omicron?

Having no playbook explains, and possibly excuses, early mistakes.

It neither explains nor excuses failing to learn from them and do much better, much sooner.

Rural round-up


Book culling space now! – Peter Burke:

Livestock farmers are being urged to plan ahead for possible meat processing disruption due to Covid-19.

The expectation of some farmers that they can ring up a buyer at short notice and have animals collected quickly and taken to the processing works is unrealistic at the moment.

The chair of the Animal Welfare Forum Lindsay Burton says with Omicron in the community, there is a high degree of uncertainty around the availability of a labour force in processing plants. He says even before the recent omicron outbreak, the industry was 5,500 workers short and the situation has the potential to get worse.

The Farm to Processor Animal Welfare Forum – a grouping of various industries related to livestock farming – says it is critical that farmers book space at meat processors well in advance. It is also warning farmers to be prepared to potentially hold stock on farm for longer. . . 

‘It’s beyond a joke’ – farmer outraged at milk tanker fracas near front gate – Chloe Blommerde:

A dairy farmer reckons $80,000 worth of milk could have gone down the drain during a milk tanker fracas with boy racers on the road near his front gate.

Footage of the incident shows a group of people crowding around a Fonterra tanker and its driver in the middle of the night as a stream of white pours onto the tarseal, however it’s unclear how much was lost.

Police received a report that a milk truck was damaged by a group of people near the intersection of Stokes and Orini roads in Waikato around 1.20am on Saturday.

The rural crossroads is a well-known spot for street racers to park up and do burnouts at the weekend. . . 

Fonterra to exit Russian business :

Fonterra has today announced it will exit its businesses in Russia. This follows the Co-op’s decision to suspend shipments of product to Russia at the end of February.

CEO Miles Hurrell says “our first step following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was to establish the safety of the team in Russia, and our priority through this process continues to be doing the right thing by our people.

“We then suspended shipment of product to Russia while we assessed the impact of economic sanctions and discussed our long-term plans with our customers and joint venture partner.

“Following careful consideration of the impact on our people and our long-term plans for the Russian market, we will now close our office in Moscow, re-deploying staff where possible, and withdraw from our joint venture Unifood.” . .

Business relationships crucial to success of winning farmers :

Bay of Plenty Share Farmer of the Year winners Scott and Becks O’Brien say farmers have nothing to lose and everything to gain in Dairy Industry Awards. Their advice to potential entrants is to give it a go.

“Whether you come first or last doesn’t really matter, because the networking with so many different people, and the feedback and information and scrutiny you’re getting on your business is as valuable as winning. You just have to give it a go. It’s little nerve wracking, but we really enjoyed it, and what you get out of it is so worth it.”

The O’Briens are sharemilking 900 cows on two farms about 10 minutes apart in the Galatea district. Since 2017 they have milked 650 cows on Rory and Susan Gordon’s 260-hectare farm, and since 2020 have been milking 250 cows on Cathy and Peter Brown’s 100-hectare property.

Scott has been dairy farming since he left school, just over 20 years ago. He and Becks have been married for 16 years. The start of their relationship was dramatic, with 21-year-old Becks diagnosed with cancer just after they met. It has permanently affected her voice, but after being at home with their young family – 12-year-old Hunter, 10-year-old Summer, and 8-year-old Piper – she has become an educational support worker at Galatea School (where Scott is also on the board of trustees). . . 

From Auckland to Reporoa lifestyle choice brings success in Dairy Industry Awards:

A former Auckland sales and marketing executive and a former adventure tourism guide and boutique lodge manager have won the 2022 Central Plateau Share Farmer of the Year title.

Todd and Renee Halliday were announced the winners of the region’s Share Farmer of the Year category at the Central Plateau Dairy Industry Awards annual awards dinner held at the Lake Taupō Yacht Club on Thursday night. The other big winners were Satveer Singh, who was named the 2022 Central Plateau Dairy Manager of the Year, and Zoe Bryson, the 2022 Central Plateau Dairy Trainee of the Year.

Todd was born and bred in Auckland city and had never set foot on a farm until he met Renee, who is a dairy farmer’s daughter. The couple spent five years in the hospitality sector managing boutique lodges together before entering the dairy industry in 2009.

Todd initially spent two years as a farm assistant in Reporoa before progressing to a management role for a further two years. He and Renee then spent seven years in Mid Canterbury before returning to Reporoa where they now contract milk and are equity partners with Phil and Diane Herdman, on a 153ha Reporoa property, milking 520 cows. They won $17,060 in prizes and eight merit awards. . . 

RIP plant based meat mania – Prime Future:

I am often asked about my view on alternative meats and the threat they pose to old fashioned, plant-fed meat. I’ve stayed away from that question, for the most part because I’m just more interested in plant-fed meat.

First, it’s important to separate “alternative meat” into 3 distinct buckets: plant-based, fermented, cell-based.

Today we are looking at the plant-based meat category. Spoiler alert: I find the plant-based meat category bland and uninspiring. And honestly, I think we can reasonably lay plant-based meat mania to rest in peace in the history books, right alongside 1990’s emu farming mania in the US.

Some background on VC’s appetite for the category: . . 

Rural round-up


Guilt trees destroying farming – Peter Andrew:

The potential loss of local stations such as Huiarua, Matanui and sadly many other properties to the carbon pine forest bandwagon are an absolute disgrace and embarrassment to us as human beings/farmers. The pioneers who developed and farmed this land would be spinning in their graves if they knew we were letting this happen.

This farmland is top-performing country and one of the best places to grow grass in this country. There is no better indicator of the quality of the land and its productive capability than when in 2001 Huiarua was announced winner of the Gisborne Wairoa “Farmer of the Year” competition.

This long-term loss of the productive use of the land is in complete conflict with our core role of being kaitiaki (caretakers) for our district for our children. Aren’t we meant to leave this place more productive than we found it, not destroy the opportunity for future generations to use the land?

If we don’t care about the future of this place anymore, how we leave it for our children, we may as well let the weeds go and throw rubbish out the car window! . . 

Farmers urged to plan for processing disruptions :

The Farm to Processor Animal Welfare Forum is urging farmers to plan ahead for disruption at processors due to COVID-19.

Forum chair Dr Lindsay Burton said it was critical that farmers book space at meat processors well in advance and be prepared to potentially hold stock on farm for longer.

“We have seen overseas the disruption that Omicron can cause to supply chains – particularly meat processing. It is important that farmers talk to their stock agents, processors and transporters if they aren’t already, and have a plan for what they would do if they need to hold onto stock for longer.

“Make sure you consider this in your feed planning and talk to your levy body or a farm adviser if you need support.” . . .

Omicron phase three: Concern for vulnerable rural communities :

There are fears the phase three Omicron response will see already-stretched rural health services in crisis as they try to care for increasing numbers of Covid-19 patients at home.

Questions are being asked about what happens when sole-charge GPs are forced to shut their doors if required to isolate themselves.

It was not uncommon for rural communities to be serviced by a single doctor and nurse.

A fortnight ago, there was no Covid-19 detected in the Southern District Health Board. . .

Honours in the dairy – Karen Trebilcock:

Working on a dairy farm is not what Paige Harris thought she would be doing after university but now it’s exactly where she wants to be.

Milking 550 cows on 310 hectares near Balfour in northern Southland, the 24-year-old says she is still only “scratching the surface” of dairying.

“All my friends and family were saying ‘what are you doing milking cows with a first-class honours degree’ but if I really want to connect with farmers, I need to understand the role and the only way to do that is by milking.

“You need a lot of tools in the toolbox to really achieve at dairying.” . . 

Vertical farming rising to tackle global food crisis :

The world is consuming more food than it is producing. With the global population expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, a global food crisis is fast approaching.

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021 report estimated that on average, 768 million people faced world hunger globally in 2020. The high cost of fresh, healthy produce, combined with high income inequality, means that many cannot afford a healthy diet.

This is especially prevalent in Aotearoa, with almost 40 percent of New Zealand households saying they face food insecurity in the last New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey, conducted back in 2008/2009.

A company that is answering the call to this crisis is Intelligent Growth Solutions Limited (IGS). IGS is an Edinburgh-based company that is developing vertical farming systems that may become a common sight in New Zealand in the future. . . 

Plant-based ‘meat’ could be off the table – Maeve Bannister:

Plant-based food manufacturers may have to change the way they label products if recommendations from a new report are taken on by the federal government. 

A Senate inquiry into definitions of meat and other animal products – initiated by the National Party – recommends the government implement mandatory food labelling requirements.

It also recommends a far-reaching review of Australia’s food standards regulator. 

Nationals Senator Susan McDonald says more regulation is needed as consumers are confused by plant products featuring names like ‘chicken’, ‘beef’ or ‘prawns’.  . . 

Unprepared again


The Omicron surge is only just starting and already testing stations are overwhelmed with people waiting hours to be tested.

In spite of assertions to the contrary, the health system was unprepared again:

Testing laboratories face potential staff burnout and delays to cancer diagnoses if a surge in demand for Covid-19 tests does not drop off, the Government has been warned.

Questions have also been raised about why labs are already under such strain well below New Zealand’s stated maximum testing capacity, with the Opposition accusing the Government of using misleading figures to overstate the state of play.

In late January, Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall announced the Government had increased the nationwide capacity for Covid PCR tests “from a maximum of 39,000 tests a day to a baseline of 58,000 tests”.

While the rolling seven-day testing average is 28,567 – less than half of that “baseline” – the Ministry of Health has warned of “exceptional demand” on testing laboratories, with some people in Auckland and Waikato reporting waits of up to five days for a Covid result.

The gap between the stated capacity and the real-time processing ability is largely due to the fact that the higher number relies on being able to “pool” tests: running samples in batches and individually re-testing any with a positive result, something which is only possible with a relatively low number of Covid cases in the community.

Terry Taylor, the president of the New Zealand Institute of Medical Laboratory Science, told Newsroom that laboratories in Auckland had stopped pooling Covid swabs early last week, and others were set to follow.

“Even though it seems a bit of an oxymoron, our capacity actually drops as the surge increases…we just do not have the resources, the staffing, the consumables to actually be able to maintain anything more than around about that 25 to 30-odd thousand.”

Taylor was unsure where the 58,000 figure had come from, as the institute had not been approached by the Government about it.

“I am a little bit frustrated, in a way, that figures that were not helpful have been bandied around – you can imagine what it’s like for the workforce on the ground when they hear what I would call just unreasonable expectations put on them, to do that sort of level of work for any period of time.”

Taylor said the surge in demand for PCR tests affected the ability of labs to process the 200,000 non-Covid tests they usually performed every day; lab tests were used for almost all cancer diagnoses, as well as monitoring autoimmune diseases and other conditions. . . 

We get told if people die from Covid-19 (including those who die with the disease rather than of it); but we might never know how many people will have treatment delayed and the impact of that on their health, well being and lives.

This situation wouldn’t be nearly as dire if the government stupidity hadn’t restricted the supply of rapid antigen tests (RATs):

National Party Covid response spokesman Chris Bishop told Newsroom the Government had been “using misleading figures to give an appearance of greater capacity than actually exists”, and needed to legalise the sale of RATS over the counter as well as contracting Rako Science to boost PCR testing capacity.

“A lot of people turning up for PCR tests are just people a bit worried about having Covid. The easy way to triage them is to let them take care of their own health through rapid tests from pharmacies – reserve PCR capacity for people who actually need it.” . .

Trusting us to take care of ourselves is a foreign concept to this government and its control freakery.

Another sign of a health system unprepared for the pandemic is that hospitals across the country were full before the virus started spreading.

The Delta outbreak exposed Andrew Little’s failure to resource ICUs, and now Omicron is exposing his failure to resource general hospital beds, National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says.

“Newly released data shows that on 9 February 2022, general hospital ward beds across all hospitals in New Zealand were already at an average of 82 per cent occupancy. This was at a time when there was only 204 community cases and 16 in hospital.

“Whangarei Hospital had 100 per cent occupancy and hospitals in Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington, Hawkes Bay, Palmerston North, Wairau, Waikato and Whanganui, were all at more than 90 per cent occupancy.

“We don’t have enough beds and we also don’t have enough nurses. The same data shows more than 2,000 nursing vacancies across the sector, including 400 vacancies at Auckland hospital alone.

“The combination of full hospitals, not enough nurses, Omicron starting to surge and winter fast approaching is a deadly mix.

“People with Omicron will be pushed out into an unprepared community and people waiting for surgery and cancer treatment will have their procedures cancelled.

“Andrew Little has not prepared the health system. What he has done is spend large on consultants and a health restructure instead of ICU beds and nurses.

“How many lives are going to be affected by Andrew Little’s constant poor decisions?”

He has left the health system unprepared, failing patients and health workers:

Increasing health workforce shortages and strikes lay squarely at the feet of Health Minister Andrew Little, National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says.

“Last week, radiation physicists and technicians who manage cancer patients issued strike notices. This week thousands of lab workers and Covid-19 contact tracers have voted to strike.

“Andrew Little is so out of touch with the healthcare workforce that he didn’t even know that 10,000 of them decided to go on strike when asked about it by journalists. He has also failed to deliver the “safe staffing” accord which was promised to nurses last year, to protect them from over working.

“If the Minister was focused on getting nurses into the country and delivering front line health services, instead of ramming through a $486 million health restructure in the middle of a pandemic, many of the workforce shortages and safety issues could have been avoided.

“Data recently released to the National Party show that there are currently 2,200 vacant nursing positions across the country. It’s no wonder that the health workforce is feeling immense pressure.

“He has failed our health workforce, who have worked so hard to keep us safe over the last few years, and has actively undermined them in favour of his dangerous and disruptive health restructure.”

The time and money wasted on restructuring the health system are Little’s responsibility.

The Minister of Immigration has also made the situation worse by not granting residency to overseas health professionals who are already working here and not allowing more health professional to come into the country.

That would be bad enough at the best of times, during a pandemic it is irresponsible and incompetent.

The government keeps telling us that Covid-19 is its focus but just like so many of its other grand proclamations, words aren’t backed up by the necessary action.

Time for gown ups


Threatening people, blocking public thoroughfares and damaging property are not justified no matter the merits of, and vehemence of, views behind a protest.

But among the mad and bad in the crowd surrounding parliament are a lot of people who deserve to be heard.

That doesn’t mean agreeing with them, it does mean giving them the courtesy of listening to them and at least attempting to understand their concerns.

Not only have no MPs attempted to engage with any of the protestors, Speaker Trevor Mallard has requested all members of the press gallery to stay away from them.

Trevor Mallard is essentially preventing members of the press gallery from going anywhere near the protesters.

There’s no dispute the protest was ugly and disruptive. Few of us will have sympathy for assaults on police officers, selfish disruption to businesses from cars parked across Wellington’s Molesworth St, or the hassling of passers-by for wearing masks.

Few of us will applaud placards calling for the execution of politicians and members of the media.

But we also know those are fringe elements. Not everyone there was violent or disruptive. And there were dozens of police keeping watch. In normal, pre-pandemic conditions press gallery members would regularly and freely interview demonstrators.

That’s their job and if they’re not able to do it, alternative media takes over and it’s the fringe elements whose views are heard and seen.

And yet, this is at least the third pandemic protest where most members of the press gallery have got no closer to the protest than standing on the Speaker’s balcony, watching the scene from a floor above.

Apparently, Mallard did not instruct media to stay on the balcony. It was a “request” based on health and safety concerns. But again, judge for yourself.

A member of the press gallery did venture out in spite of this “request”. Disclaimer: it was NewstalkZB’s Political Editor Barry Soper. He’s both my colleague and my husband so I freely admit my bias here.

After spotting Barry out among the protesters on Wednesday, Mallard called the press gallery’s deputy chair to remind him of the “request” that media not use the forecourt to meet the protesters. This request was repeated to Barry, who ignored it and went out a second time that afternoon. Mallard then called the press gallery’s chair to remind her of the “request”. Again, it was passed on to Barry. If a “request” is repeatedly given without solicitation, it starts to look like an instruction.

Mallard should consider the chilling effect he may be having on members of the media, given the power he wields in that building, including the ability to withdraw permission to work in the gallery. It is notable that at least one newsroom dispatched reporters who don’t work in Parliament to cover the protest on the ground, while their press gallery colleagues stayed on the balcony.

Mallard should also consider that the duty of care for the safety of members of the media actually lies with the editors those media report to, not with him.

Finally – and most importantly – he should consider the message this sends to the protesters. TVNZ reporter Kristin Hall observed and tweeted that “protesters are resentful of media standing above them on the parly balcony”. Many of them are already so steeped in conspiracies that they believe the mainstream media are censoring their views and are paid off by the Government. It’s hardly helpful for Mallard to reinforce the conspiracy nonsense by essentially restricting media movement.

Literally looking down on the protestors feeds their belief that the media is figuratively looking down on them too.

Absolutely, there is a fine line in media coverage of protests like this. No one wants to give oxygen to lunatic fringe theories. But we should want to understand the motivations for the protest. . . 

Among the protestors are those who accept the need for vaccinations and are vaccinated but have valid concerns about mandates and their consequences.

We’re currently witnessing a breakdown in the country’s social cohesion. The pandemic is widening divisions. The passion behind this protest is proof. We all know the only way to avoid that getting worse is to understand each other. But we won’t understand each other unless we talk to each other.

That’s the role of the media. Reporters are meant to report. In order to report, they need to talk to people.

As angry and disruptive as some of those protesters were, they’re still our fellow Kiwis. As Speaker, Mallard should be doing everything to try to help heal divisions, not make them worse.

 Mallard’s request to the press gallery to stay away from the protestors has fed into conspiracy theories about the media and his actions over the weekend aggravated matters.

Turning on sprinklers was provocative, stupid and possibly unlawful.

Doing it when the lawn was saturated, rain was forecast was environmentally irresponsible.

Doing it when Wellington is under water restrictions looks like civil disobedience.

People who live and work near parliament are being inconvenienced by the protest, Mallard’s loud music added to the problems they’re experiencing encouraged the protestors to make more noise. Where were the noise control people and did the police on duty at the protest have ear protection?

Mallard is  acting like a child which is not only inappropriate for the office he holds, it is also encouraging the protestors and gaining them sympathy.

It is high time for grown ups to step up.

Every party in parliament accepts the science that backs the need for vaccines. So do some of the people protesting. Right from the start their message was they were anti-mandate, not necessarily anti-vax.

That people who are anti-vax and others with unrelated gripes with the government have joined the protest has muddled the message.

But it should be possible for at least a few MPs to listen to the concerns about mandates without prejudice.

When the only government representative doing something is being juvenile, there’s a golden opportunity for the Opposition to be the gown ups.

If, as is possible, they don’t think they can do that by going out among the crowd, they could invite a few of the protestors in where they can listen without danger of being interrupted or sidetracked by the more militant in the crowd.

That won’t be easy when there appears to be no individuals leading the protest but it shouldn’t be impossible to find a few people who can give a reasoned expression of their opposition to mandates.

That might not lead to a resolution but it ought to improve understanding and that would be a plank in the bridge to progress.

It would also provide an opportunity to reinforce that this is a mess of the government’s making.

If it wasn’t for the slow vaccination rollout and the control freakery that first prevented the import of rapid antigen tests and more recently has led to the requisitioning of the ones businesses had ordered, there might well be no need for mandates, or at least a clear pathway towards an end to them.

There’s a better way


There’s what the government is doing about the shortage of rapid antigen tests (RATs):

And there’s a much better way – Sir Ian Taylor writes of solving the RAT crisis in three hours:

Businesses had argued for months about the importance of rapid antigen tests as one of the tools to help keep businesses operating once covid began to spread across the country. But, as has been the case on so many fronts now in our Covid response, we have lagged behind the rest of the world in approving the use of rapid antigen tests and even further behind in finding reliable sources.

And so it was that when our Government finally recognised the importance these tests would play in keeping our businesses operating during an outbreak, the US government had already moved to make rapid antigen testing its number one priority in its Covid response which meant that, just as we had seen with vaccines, our little country at the bottom of the world faced the prospect of having to take whatever we could get, at whatever price we were being charged.

And up to last week that meant that the only immediate source the government could find was what businesses had already ordered themselves and, no matter what language you choose to use, those supplies were requisitioned by the MOH. . . 

They didn’t only requisition the RATs, they have taken it upon themselves to decide on who would be the critical workers who would be permitted to get them.

The irony of all of this was that for more than two months there was an offer on their table from a company called Kudu Spectrum to deliver 1 million tests every 10 days with offers of up to 30 million delivered in six weeks. The offer also sat between 50 and 60 per cent below what the Government, and businesses who were lucky enough to find a source, were being charged at the time.

Not only more, but cheaper.

A week ago, working alongside the lawyer representing Kudu Spectrum and business leaders like Don Braid at Mainfreight, I finally got through to the MOH and within a day the first order for 5 million was placed.

In the space of 24 hours, Don had brought together 26 businesses with enough clout to order a further 1.1 million to keep key industries running. He then worked with Greg Foran at Air New Zealand to arrange the transport of the tests to New Zealand.

Order for 20 million

Today I heard that the Government has placed an order for a further 20 million. If they had moved eight weeks ago when the offer was first made, those supplies would be here already.

Just to place all of this in context, I forwarded the contact details provided to me by the Kudu Spectrum lawyer to Dr Bloomfield last Friday morning. That’s exactly one week ago. The encouraging thing about that is it reaffirmed something I did know from past experience. There are officials buried inside government who do want to make a difference and just need to be given the freedom to act.

If ever there was an example of what I meant last September when I urged the PM to start looking to the bench for help, this was surely it.

And it gets better.

Over the past 24 hours I have been inundated by small businesses, like a fashion shop here in Dunedin, which simply has no idea where they can find rapid antigen tests to protect their staff. The big companies that can afford the upfront costs of buying the test have been taken care of, but what about the small companies?

Small companies include those that produce, process and supply essentials like food.

At 7.30 this morning I broached that question with Don Braid. I explained that we had to find someone of scale who could pay the upfront fees to bring supplies in to service the small businesses that currently have nowhere to go. And we needed that someone to agree that this was in the interest of all New Zealanders so it could not be a profit-making exercise. By 8.30am he had put me in touch with Chris Quin, CEO of Foodstuffs North Island.

Foodstuffs was one of the early business adopters of RATs and they were key to helping to keep their teams safe and ensuring food was on their shelves through the last lockdown. They were one of the first companies to take advantage of this latest offer to bring in their own supplies, but he agreed that something needed to be done for smaller companies and asked what I had in mind. I told him that we needed an organisation that had a country-wide distribution that was prepared to bring in RATs through the Kudu Spectrum supply chain and was prepared to deliver those to businesses, basically at cost.

As I was asking this, I was reminded of a couple of tag lines that I hadn’t heard for a while.

“Be kind – we are all in this together.”

Chris asked me to give him 24 hours to consult with his board and the South Island Foodstuffs Co-Op. Three hours later he was back to share with me Foodstuffs’ offer, approved by both of the Co-operatives.

“We believe collaboration is key to getting NZ through Omicron – so we are committing to join the effort to provide mass distribution of these critical tests to business, organisations and consumers as stock is available. We know these tests will make the difference to how we all get through this together and will supply the tests at cost to ensure everyone can access them.”

All of this was put in place by a major business organisation in just three hours.

Now all they need the Government to do is give them approval to wholesale and retail the test, at cost, and work with them to get sufficient supply because at this stage the government does not allow it.

Is there anything other than control freakery stopping the approval coming through, and coming through in a very short time?

Once they have clearance to do that, the plan is to grow the relationships that have been established, by business people talking to each other, over the past 48 hours. The RAT market is one under enormous demand globally. That we are even in the position to have these discussions is remarkable.

That’s what the bench can do Prime Minister: Let’s do this.

This is a very clear illustration of the difference between socialism and capitalism, between business thinking and bureaucratic thinking.

And not just business thinking, but businesses collaborating for the common good.

Control freakery & ‘consolidation’


The government’s control freakery led it to ban the importation of rapid antigen test kits and now that some businesses can import them the government is ‘consolidating’ supplies:

The Government says it is not requisitioning stocks of rapid antigen tests (RATS), it is only “consolidating” orders of tests heading into the country, but at least one distributor of the tests isn’t so sure, and has challenged the ministry to prove it is telling the truth.

The Government said it has channelled business’ orders of RATS into its own stocks, responding to claims from business that testing stocks had been requisitioned.

This means business’ orders of tests that were heading into the country will now be consolidated into an order by the Government.

They’re not requisitioning stocks they’re just consolidating them.

Has the Ministry of Health turned into Alice in Wonderland where a word means what it says it means?

Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said he was “not commandeering all the stocks that private businesses have”, and added that only tests that were not already in the country have been “consolidated”. . . 

InScience director Ann-Louise Anderson, who has had hundreds of thousands of tests on order, said the Government had actually taken product that was already in New Zealand, and challenged the Government to prove that what it said was true.  . . 

She isn’t the only one to contradict the DG:

The Government is seizing private supplies of rapid antigen tests to beef up its own stocks, according to multiple businesses. 

Some are warning this will lead to supply chaos and empty shelves, as businesses will no longer be able to offer tests to staff. Others are now complaining they’re having to explain to staff why tests they’d been promised might not arrive. 

Rapid antigen tests (RATs), which are effectively banned for the general public to use, can be used by a number of corporates and their employees. 

However a number of firms have reported being told by their supplier that their RAT orders are unable to be fulfilled because the Government is requisitioning them. 

Katherine Rich, chief executive of the food and grocery council, which represents businesses that supply shops with food and drink, said multiple members of her organisation had been told their suppliers had been cancelled. 

“They have been told that all available stock has gone to the Ministry of Health,” she said. 

Rich said that businesses were frustrated that they had done the right thing by planning ahead, only for the Government to take their stocks at the last minute. 
“They have had plans, they have done the right thing, they put the orders in,” she said. 

“This idea that RATs are readily accessible is wrong – their orders have been in the country, but they’re not able to be dispatched because they’ve been poached by the Ministry of Health. So much for asking everyone to be prepared,” she said.  . . 

Whoever you believe, this action is due to government  incompetence:

The Government is seizing rapid tests from the private sector to try and hide their incompetence from not ordering enough of them sooner, National Covid-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop says.

“I have been approached by a series of organisations today, all of whom have orders for rapid antigen tests about to be filled. They have been told that those orders cannot be filled because the rapid antigen tests are now going to the Government instead.

I tried to order some RATs for our farms and was told the order couldn’t be processed and new supplies weren’t expected until March.

“That the Government has now resorted to requisitioning rapid antigen tests from the private sector is a stunning indictment of the Government’s incompetence over rapid antigen testing.

“How many of the 4 million rapid tests currently in New Zealand, that the Prime Minister has been talking about, actually belong to the Government?

“How many of the 14 million tests the Prime Minister says are on order to arrive by the end of February are actually just orders taken from companies?

“The Government banned the importation of rapid antigen testing for most of 2021, only relenting in the final quarter and allowing selected companies to bring in a small number. Having banned their use the Government is now scrambling to get enough rapid tests for its own uses.

“The Government has no one to blame but itself.

“This is redolent of the behaviour of the Government with Rako Science and saliva testing. Rather than just negotiating in good faith with the saliva testing provider, the Government pushed a law through under urgency last year to allow them to seize its assets.” 

Businesses that were taking responsible and being prepared have been trumped by the government that went on holiday and is now trying to play catch up.

Added to this is an almost criminal level of stupidity that has done too little, too late with the use of saliva tests.

A Covid-19 saliva testing expert from Yale University is “terrified” at how unprepared the Government is for Omicron, and says it urgently needs to ramp up saliva testing of border workers before it is too late.

Yale University’s Anne Wyllie says New Zealand authorities need to test border workers daily, and pay attention to new research showing saliva testing is better at detecting Omicron.

“I’m terrified it’s going to be too little too late. New Zealand has had almost two years to straighten out its testing system, to get things in place.” . . 

It is too little, too late – again for saliva tests and also for Covid treatments.

The Government must move as fast as possible to approve and order supply of promising new Covid-19 treatments, National’s Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop says.

“Lagevrio (molnupiravir) and Paxlovid have both been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration in Australia, and regulatory bodies in the United Kingdom and the United States, but we are on the go-slow here in New Zealand.

Why do we have to reinvent the wheel? Surely there’s a way to fast track approval for treatments already accepted as safe in these countries?

“With Omicron now in our community and with cases likely to increase quickly, we need access to these next generation Covid-19 treatments fast.

“Paxlovid in particular is very exciting. Initial results show it significantly reduces (by 89%) hospital admissions and deaths among people with Covid-19 who are at high risk of severe illness.

“New Zealand has purchased 60,000 courses but it is not approved here yet and supply won’t arrive until April.

If Omicron moves as quickly here as it has overseas, April will be far too late for some people.

“We will be well into the Omicron outbreak by April and we need the option of these treatments as soon as possible.

“National’s pressure led the Government to sign advance purchase agreements for both Lagevrio (molnupiravir) and Paxlovid last year. The Government did the right thing by establishing a dedicated fund inside Pharmac to purchase these treatments in advance of them being approved, which National suggested in September.

“Now the Government needs to make sure we have supply of these treatments as soon as possible and that approval is expedited.”

The government and Ministry might call it consolidation.

A couple of other words come to mind – control freakery and incompetence, because the government has been lax and late – again.

Unprepared again


Yesterday’s announcement that the whole country was going to the Covid-19 red setting was not a surprise to anyone who had watched what has happened overseas.

The Omicron variant is highly contagious and once it spreads in the community it spreads fast.

Why then was, as Andrea Vance writes, the government not better prepared – again?

New Zealand’s response to the pandemic in 2020 was lauded worldwide by scientists and the World Health Organisation.

Remarkably, it remained Covid-19 free for many days.

That success was a “major achievement”, of a flawed and underprepared system, the Government’s own investigators would later conclude.

Heather Simpson and Brian Roche delivered a brutal assessment of the Ministry of Health’s failings in two reports delivered late that year.

The outbreak that led to Auckland being locked down was not picked up early enough.

There were examples of confusing messaging and poor co-ordination. Testing rates were low.

Oddly, the Ministry of Health would not participate in the cross-government group set up to manage the pandemic and didn’t properly share information with ministers or other ministries. . . 

Mistakes at the start could have been excused when there was no rule book to follow. But continued mistakes and failure to learn from them, and from overseas, are inexcusable.

2021 dawned with hope: it was to be the year of the vaccine and a travel bubble opened with Australia.

Then Delta arrived. And again, we were not ready.

Officials began talking about preparations in July, but their programme of work wasn’t due to be finished by mid-September.

It was too late. The day after they briefed Minister Chris Hipkins on the plan, the variant crashed through our border defences.

There was no excuse for the complacency. The strain was first discovered in October 2020 in India. New Zealand had already had two brushes, in April and in June, when an outbreak was miraculously avoided after an Australian traveller toured Wellington tourist spots.

We have dodged so many bullets that luck has played a far bigger part in keeping Covid-19 at bay than good management and preparedness.

Epidemiologist David Skegg, the head of the Government’s Covid-19 Public Health Advisory Group, had urged the Government to start preparing.

But just as it had been with the delivery of vaccinations, the Government was on its own timeline. It was always going to be hard to inoculate enough people before Delta arrived, but once again we started the race from behind.

By international standards the vaccine roll-out was staggeringly slow, only ramping up in the last quarter of the year. The Government was slow to start negotiating for, purchasing and approving doses. It initially opted for just the Pfizer jab, which limited supplies.

What is perhaps most unforgivable is the initial failure to engage with and fund Māori health providers. As a result of the ‘one-size fits all’ approach Māori were left behind. . . 

Now because the initial vaccination rollout was late and slow, too many of us are facing the Omicron rollout without boosters which are deemed necessary for widespread protection.

Vaccinating children aged 5-12, which is also recommended, has only just begun.

And government obstinacy in sticking only to PCR tests has been relaxed only now as global supplies of Rapid Antigen Tests are in very short supply.

Once again, our defences are unprepared.

deeply worrying classified report, leaked to Māori TV last week, reveals just how ill-equipped the health system is.

Intensive care beds are ‘limited’ across district health boards, with 36 per cent, or 108 ICU beds, available with the imminent threat of Omicron seeping through the border. Shamefully, there is no ICU capacity in either Hawke’s Bay or the West Coast. . . 

Yale University’s Anne Wyllie says she is “terrified” about how unprepared her home country is, saying we urgently need to ramp up saliva testing of border workers.

A study found nasal swabs weren’t as effective at detecting Omicron which makes the need for widespread availability of saliva tests even greater.

Government advisers also fear panic buying of food, protective masks and medication.

We are vulnerable to the supply chain problems that Omicron has caused in other countries. “The big sick” will put a significant chunk of the workforce into isolation. On top of this, New Zealand has an existing truck driver shortage.

Panic buying was evident in Oamaru late yesterday morning when I popped into the supermarket.

The carpark was full, all baskets and almost all trolleys were in use and most were stacked unusually high and some shelves were empty.

The pool of migrant workers that could have picked up the slack has been reduced to a dribble, with ministers demonstrating a dogmatic inflexibility.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson says the Government is working hard, and closely with business leaders on the issue.

However, the planning is not fast or detailed enough for the business community. Their concerns are dismissed by Labour’s supporters as whinging, but we’ll all be complaining when the rubbish piles up, the supermarket shelves are bare, and we can’t replace basic household items.

The response is geared towards keeping Omicron out for as long as possible, and slowing down transmission when it does arrive. Actually coping when it inevitably tears through the community seems to be an afterthought.

It is unfathomable that is where we find ourselves as we enter the pandemic’s third year.

The only thing we can now be prepared for are more lockdowns and a prolonged closure of the border.

An even more prolonged closure of the border? The Prime Minister in exhorting us to be kind is being anything but kind to people stuck overseas.

In her speech yesterday she exhorted us all to play our parts as part of the team, making no mention of and giving no comfort to those million or so in the team who can’t come home.

The latest of those struggling to get a humane response is a family needing an urgent exemption to travel home:

Abigail Peden lies on a couch in Papua New Guinea moaning with pain as her father tries hard to keep it together.

But all Dan Peden has been able to do is wait and watch his 9-year-old daughter suffer for almost four days and hope she will be treated before the shattered bones around her elbow, caused by a fall, create a lifelong injury.

The Peden family, originally from Rotorua, are in Papua New Guinea as missionaries. Unable to get the surgery Abigail requires in the lesser developed Pacific nation, they desperately applied for an emergency managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) exemption to fly her home to New Zealand, and are now waiting for a decision to be made.

A doctor’s report seen by Stuff from the New Tribes Medical Centre in Goroka states Abigail’s young age means her condition is urgent, and she will need a paediatric orthopaedic surgeon in New Zealand to operate. . . 

An exemption for a case like this should be made in seconds.

That the family had to wait – and at time of writing are still waiting – for an exemption is evidence of a system that is inexcusably inflexible and inhumane.

It is another sign of the government’s lack of preparedness that has been exacerbated by its control freakery.

It not having a sufficient supply of RATs is bad enough, passing a law to prevent individuals and businesses from importing them compounds the error and that must change.

The Government’s lack of preparation for Omicron has unnecessarily put New Zealand in a worse position than we needed to be, National Leader Christopher Luxon says.

“Rather than spending the last month urgently boosting as many people as possible, rolling out vaccinations for 5–11 year olds and buying stocks of rapid tests, the Government went into ‘go slow’ mode over summer.

“For much of 2021, New Zealand had the slowest vaccine rollout in the developed world. Now Omicron is here, and we are the fourth slowest in the developed world for boosters.

“This is a stunning indictment on the Government’s lack of planning and lack of urgency.

“The Government still seems stuck in a Delta mind-set. Contact tracing under Omicron will be overwhelmed within days. So will our traditional nasal PCR tests, yet the Government simply hasn’t got ready for rapid testing.

“Until recently, rapid antigen tests were illegal and they are still extremely hard to come by now. New Zealand companies are waiting weeks for permission to import them while in other countries like Australia, you can walk into the supermarket and buy one off the shelf.

“Once again, there was no mention of saliva testing. The evidence suggests saliva testing detects Omicron earlier than nasal testing does, but the Government continues to be locked in a nasty spat with Rako Science and therefore they are still not utilising all available testing resource in the country.

“There are urgent steps we need to take.

“We need to protect the vulnerable. We should inundate rest homes, retirement villages and at-risk communities with boosters.

“And we need to get defences and mitigations in place. We should vastly increase the availability of rapid tests, urgently upgrade ICU capacity, and ensure we have stocks of the treatments we need.

“The Government can’t afford to rest on their laurels any longer; they must implement a proper plan for Omicron and deliver on it.”

The government is lamentably lacking in MPs with experience outside parliament and the public service. If any of them have any experience of the Guide and Scout movements they have forgotten its motto – be prepared.

Rural round-up


Audit solutions won’t work against climate change – look to the practical – Eric Roy:

It’s encouraging to have some better acceptance of the need to address climate change. What is frustrating is the lack of meaningful engagement and the absence of applied science to find solutions.

It has largely been slogans and talk fests combined with finger pointing as to who the worst perpetrators are by country and by sector.

I’m no doubt biased. I’m a farmer and I take exception to some hyperbole levelled at the industry which largely creates the bulk of the wealth that pays for so much of the social needs and services of our country.

New Zealand is the most efficient food producer in the world. . . 

Meat industry warns a Covid-19 Omicron outbreak among its 15,000 workers would have a significant impact during peak season – Karen Coltman:

New Zealand meat plants are bracing for a wave of staff illness if the Omicron Covid-19 variant hits as they head into peakprocessing season

Silver Fern Farms said chief executive Simon Limmer ​said the timing was bad because its peak workforce of 7000 was already 550 short, and he wanted the Government to re-examine its border rules for seasonal workers.

Good weather conditions had alleviated pressure on farmers who had more feed than usual, but that could change.

“Any significant dry period from this point on, coupled with labour-related capacity reductions, will create livestock pressure on farm,” Limmer said. . . 

Young farmer outstanding in her field – Sharon Cain:

Katie Watson reckons she has always been a bit of an animal mad person. Sharon Cain reports.

Growing up on a lifestyle property at Otorohanga with pet lambs, calves and goats and spending time on the family farm in the school holidays has given her a great love for farming and the outdoors.

Watson’s first on farm working experience came in 2011 at the age of 15. She was in year 11 at school and while her friends were getting part-time jobs in cafes and supermarkets, being quite shy she was freaked out at the thought of working with people. With the help from her livestock agent dad, Owen, she got a job with a nearby dairy farmer who taught her how to milk cows.

During her last year of school, Watson did not have a clue what she wanted to do for a career. Following a discussion with a career advisor, she chose to study an Agricultural Science degree at Lincoln University. For the next four years, she surrounded herself with like-minded people who had the same interests. . .

Listen to the land – Diana Dobson:

Sir Ian Taylor may be a pioneer in technology and animation, but it is from the past he draws his strength and innovation.

A keynote speaker for February’s East Coast Farming Expo, the lad from Raupunga brings a fresh perspective to the effect of Covid on our planet, and how to put our country on track for a sustainable future.

Sir Ian’s company Animation Research created platforms that give a real-time, 3D, bird’s eye view of the America’s Cup, among other sports. It is lauded as one of the world’s leading sports graphics companies.

During the pandemic, he has constantly pushed the Government on MIQ, their response to Covid and the future of New Zealand. . .

Kelston orchards opens new multi-purpose cool store and packhouse :

Family-owned business, Kelston Orchards Ltd, has more than doubled the size of its Hawke’s Bay packhouse and cool store in response to increased global demand for New Zealand apples.

Located in the heart of New Zealand’s apple growing region, Kelston Orchards packs fresh apples grown on their 15 orchards and also provides post-harvest services to some of the largest growers in the Hawke’s Bay.

The new fully racked 1,200 square metre finished goods cool store has the capacity to hold 1600 pallets, adding to the current 3000 square metre, 12000 bin store , while the state-of-the-art 2,500 square metre packhouse facility features a multi-lane feeding and optical grading system capable of handling 60 bins per hour.

With technology developed in France by MAF Roda agrobitoics, the facility includes a high performance handling system which ensures apples are managed delicately and quality is not compromised at any point during the process. When not packing apples for export, the packhouse will also be used to support local summerfruit growers. . . 

John Deere’s driverless tractor have hit bump in the road – Brian Henderson:

Excitement ran high in the farming media last week when the second biggest tractor company in the world, John Deere, announced that they were soon to release their first autonomous tractor on to the market.

For, while we’ve all grown used to the ‘hands-free’ option available with GPS auto-steer guidance systems on our big pieces of machinery, taking that a step further and having little more to do to cultivate a field than to drive the tractor down there and then just let it get on with it would certainly appeal to many.

Well, I say many but there still remains a hardcore of tractor fanatics who would happily spend each and every day ensconsed in their cosy cab, driving up and down the same field or racing about the roads with beacons ablaze.

And some of these fan-boys devote the sort of level of support to one brand or colour equalled only on the pre-Covid football terraces or in the stands at the six nations matches. . . 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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