Monday, 1 March 2021

Free Press, 1 March 2021


The Prime Minister is subtly and but unmistakably shifting the blame for the latest lockdown to Case M, a 21 year old man from South Auckland. Yes, Case M went to the gym after being tested, that is wrong, and there should be penalties for breaking such rules. However, there are some other facts that are inconvenient for the Prime Minister.

It appears that the man caught COVID from known cases D, E, F, G and H. The Government itself reports that genomic sequencing backs this up and that contact tracers have established they might have met case M and infected him. That’s good to know now, but knowing a week ago could have saved us all of this trouble.

Case M was the brother of a Papatoetoe High School (PHS) student. Such people were asked to self-isolate until any PHS family members received a negative test. The sibling received three. Case M is being attacked for going to the gym, by the Government who never identified him as a contact of the known cases he actually got it from until he got tested himself.

Having found that the young man was not the problem, the Government this morning seized upon the fact that the young man’s mother, Case N, visited family D, E, F, G, and H while Auckland was under Alert Level 3. Notice the Government was blaming other people before it knew whom to blame.

This episode tells us a lot about the Government. First, its contact tracing is not up to scratch. Second, it’s not prepared to be reflective and take the blame. Finally, its kindness includes the Prime Minister, a master communicator, publicly shifting all the blame to a young man and his family when it should be shared with her.

The more immediate problem is that a third of New Zealand is now under lockdown, and the South Island is isolated for a problem in South Auckland. There’s got to be a better way.

If any good can come from this episode, it will be a reset in the Government’s approach to handling COVID-19. The Government has been long on complacency, and not short of self-congratulation. Reflection and improvement have been in short supply.

The saga of the Simpson-Roche report tells the story. On September 28th it was released to the Government, damning its management of MIQ and recommending better testing, better technology, and an all-of-government agency instead of the Ministry of Health Running the show.

We did not know this when ACT’s policy was released in August, calling for the same things. None of us were to know until the Government released the Report on December 18. That was the last Friday afternoon before Christmas.

A Government that welcomed open public debate about improving our response to COVID-19 would have released it earlier and promoted a debate. This Government, that was happy to rush out a press release about vaccine agreements six days before the election, did the opposite.

This latest outbreak shows we have not been specially led. We had the world’s greatest advantages for an epidemic, being the most isolated first world country on earth. This and a little luck are what got us to February. The Government now has the opportunity to confront this reality and find a better way.

Vaccines may save us. The early evidence from Israel is extremely promising. However, even if they do keep working as hoped, the Government says we will not get underway with widespread vaccination until the second half of the year. We are at least six months away from vaccines making a difference.

In the meantime, the Government’s COVID response needs a reset. There needs to be a multi-disciplinary Epidemic Response Unit in place of the Ministry of Health. It needs to be open to working with business, so that we can augment our response with better technologies. These ideas are in ACT’s policy from August, and the suppressed Simpson-Roche report.

On the other hand, the Government’s capability and policies for tackling COVID are unchanged. The success rate for contact tracing has not reached 80 per cent of contacts within four days, in fact it has been constant for the August, February I and February II outbreaks.

However, more than anything, the Government needs a reset in attitude. It must stop blaming others, accept that it has not done a good job, and seek to bring more people into the fold to do better. Then, and only then, will we find a better way. We might achieve ACT’s policy and Taiwan’s reality, of maintaining elimination with no more damaging lockdowns.

Lockdown links

David Seymour was busy over the weekend as the news of the renewed Auckland lockdown was digested.

See David on Newshub Nation here …

https://fb.watch/3Y1BXLJRaq/

And the Facebook Live he hosted …

https://fb.watch/3Y1zpmby2x/