Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Government continues to flounder on contact tracing


“The Government continues to flounder on the issue of contact tracing with Sam Morgan’s Covid Card team walking away from its relationship with the Ministry of Health,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“Morgan has claimed there’s no capability or commitment within the Ministry of Health to produce a functional Covid Card and no chance it can deliver even a trial in the timeframe it has given:

‘Unless they stand up a dedicated and well-led technology group with a mandate to do this, it will never go anywhere. You can't just put a dozen mid-level Government project managers and comms people on this and have it happen. You need actual technology people, well-led, with a mandate. Senior people need to engage. This is just another thing ministers say is happening but it is not.’

“ACT has been saying since March that the Government’s Covid-19 response needs to engage the private sector and use better technology for contact tracing. It’s clear that very little progress has been made in the last five months.

“The Government’s idea of engaging the private sector was to set up an email address: goodideas@police.govt.nz. I have not heard of a single person who got a helpful response from that email address.

“The then-Health Minister said he would create a portal system where people with new and existing technologies could make their offerings to government. Nothing came of it.

“In early April, we called for the Government to consider adopting Bluetooth technology for contact tracing. Australia’s Bluetooth solution was in place four months ago. Instead, we have a completely inadequate COVID Tracer app.

“As a result, the Government has been unable to meet Dr Ayesha Verrall’s recommendations that it needs to be able to identify the proportion of close contacts found by the tracing app, and trace the contacts of 1,000 cases a day. As of 14 July, it had the capacity to manage contact tracing for just 289 cases a day.

“The Government is also falling short of its own targets around contact tracing, proving its so-called ‘gold standard’ is a myth. Data released by the Government shows it fell short of several of its own targets in the first ten days of the current outbreak.

“One target was for 80 percent of contacts to be in isolation within four days of a person first having symptoms. It reached just 37 percent. That’s a staggering failure. There is nothing ‘gold standard’ about any of this.

“The Government spent months doing victory laps and assuring New Zealanders its contact tracing was world-class rather than engaging with the private sector to get better technology.

“The result is that we have had to rely on expensive and damaging lockdowns as a response to Covid-19 outbreaks.

“If we want to enhance New Zealanders’ overall wellbeing, we must get a lot smarter. A Party Vote for ACT is a vote to tackle Covid-19 intelligently.”