Friday, 5 March 2021

Contact tracing review must be thorough and published


“Is the latest example of dissonance in the COVID-19 response the disconnect between how Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield describes his team of contact tracers and their actual performance,” asks ACT Leader David Seymour.

“Regardless, the decisions and performance of contact tracing in respect of the South Auckland cluster need to be properly reviewed and the findings publicly released.

“To that end ACT supports the commitment made by Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall on NewstalkZB to carry out that investigation.

“She told Mike Hosking this morning, ‘What you have to do is make sure at the end of an event you get all of the data … my part of this will be to make sure we use the contact tracing system as well as we can, we used it differently this time than we have previously, a lot more focus on casual contacts at various places in the community, and that’s what I want to evaluate.’

“This will be important, because while Dr Bloomfield speaks glowingly of his contact tracers’ skills and endeavours at every opportunity, the evidence of how the South Auckland cluster unfolded doesn’t fit his narrative.

“It doesn’t matter how many times one of the families at the centre of the South Auckland cluster were phoned or texted, it seems that until it was too late they weren’t actually successfully contacted.

“When your multiple calls and texts go unanswered, contact tracing 101 says you go and knock on the door.

“We’re told time and again by the Prime Minister and Dr Bloomfield that the contact tracing teams do knock on doors, but how true is that when in the case of one of the crucial households in this cluster they didn’t.

“Dr Verrall’s review needs to look at these specifics – how many doors actually were knocked on – and publicly report on them.

“If a knock on the door had been done ahead of the decision late last Saturday night to plunge Auckland back into lockdown, it might have been known that case N went for a walk with someone from another infected household.

“At the time the Government leapt to lockdown it wasn’t known how cases M and N became infected, leading to speculation that wider community transmission may have occurred because, as the Prime Minister said, they couldn’t link the cases ‘person to person.’

“But only hours after lockdown began the mystery was solved; the two families knew one another and had mixed.

“Also this week we’ve learned one of the infected families has a lodger who hasn’t been placed in quarantine with the rest of the household, and Auckland Public Health – directly responsible for the region’s contact tracers – knew about it.

“I shudder to think what would have happened if this highly infectious new strain of COVID-19 actually had widely infected Auckland.

“The way the Ministry of Health and its public health counterparts have responded to this mini-cluster it’s possible we’d all need to be locked down for weeks.

“All these elements of the reality of contact tracing, rather than the myth perpetuated from the ‘pulpit of truth,’ need to be documented and released so our response to COVID-19 can improve.”

ENDS