Politicians distance themselves from Covid quarantine procedure failures

A lot of dismay and anger has been expressed after two people granted a compassionate exemption to Covid quarantine so they could travel from Auckland to Wellington to see a dying relative, including from politicians who accepted credit and praise  for successfully eradicating Covid, but don’t accept responsibility for this huge stuff up.

The Minister of Health has acted quickly – Compassionate exemptions temporarily suspended

Health Minister Dr David Clark says he has required the Director General of Health to suspend compassionate exemptions from managed isolation, in order to ensure the system is working as intended.

The ‘system’ simply wasn’t working as it should have been.

It will only be reinstated once the Government has confidence in the system.

“Compassionate exemptions should be rare and rigorous and it appears that this case did not include the checks that we expected to be happening. That’s not acceptable,” David Clark said.

“Our border measures are a key line of defence against COVID-19 and we must ensure they are as robust as possible.

It is obvious that border controls were critical. Measures should have been as robust as possible for months. Testing is a basic part of this.

“The Director General will be reviewing the processes around these latest two cases, noting that he has already made it a requirement that all individuals must return a negative COVID test before leaving managed isolation facilities from now on.”

According to RNZ that was only a few days ago.

Over the last week Clark has been praising himself for the Ministry handling of Covid.

On Facebook on 8 June:

#BREAKING We are moving to Alert Level 1 at 11.59pm tonight.
I couldn’t be more proud of overseeing a health system that has responded so well to the challenges of a global pandemic. Together, with the efforts of all New Zealanders, we’ve shown we can stamp out COVID-19. Now let’s keep doing this.

On Facebook on 12 June:

Yesterday (Newstalk ZB): Clark grilled over new cases as PM admits checks were ‘not adequate’

Health Minister David Clark told Heather Du Plessis Allan the system needs to be looked at.

“My request to suspend compassionate exemptions until we ensure the system is working as intended.”

He says that the two women did all that was asked of them.

When it came to them leaving without getting a test, Clark says that ministers understood that was what was happening.

du Plessis-Allan asked how the two teenagers had been able to run away from authorities after being granted an exemption. However, Clark was unaware of the case – learning about it live on air.

“I have not had a briefing on that. I will seek a briefing on that.”

Clark says he is disappointed that the measures he thought were in place weren’t in place.

A lot of people are disappointed in the laxness of systems and the re-introduction of Covid into New Zealand.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has admitted health officials’ protocols failed to meet expectations after two new Covid-19 cases were revealed today.

In a Facebook Live post this evening, she said standards had not been met.

“This case is clear – our expectations … have not been met in this instance,” she said.

“The two cases that came in from overseas that were announced today were not announced under the circumstances that we would have expected at out border.”

Ardern acknowledged that the two women should not have been granted compassionate leave.

“That is something that we have taken incredibly seriously.”

Ardern said the Government had now halted the compassionate leave scheme for those in self-isolation or quarantine to attend an event such as a funeral.

“Ultimately, after taking a look at what has happened here there is already an expectation that no one leaves quarantine until they have completed their two weeks [isolation] and have been tested,” she said.

“Of course that was our expectation already, so that is where there is a failure in this case.”

So not her responsibility either.

ODT: Compassionate exemptions from quarantine halted

Clark told RNZ’s Checkpoint programme tonight that, as a result of the latest cases, he had asked Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield to temporarily suspend all compassionate exemptions until he was confident that “things are happening as they should” at the borders.

“They followed all of the instructions given to them and so they haven’t come into contact with a wider group of people … but nonetheless I am disappointed to learn they were out of the facility without testing negative first, because that was my understanding that that would have happened.”

He said it was his understanding that one of the women had symptoms but dismissed them as part of a pre-existing condition.

Clark said it was his expectation that people were tested at three days and 12 days since their arrival, based on advice from the Ministry of Health.

“My understanding is that the Director-General himself was expecting they’d be tested before they left and so the system has clearly not worked as it was intended to work. I’m very disappointed about that.”

Expectations and understandings are not enough. I would have thought that all people entering the country should be tested as soon as they get here.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the two new cases of Covid-19 underline how important it is to have strict border controls.

But she would not be drawn on any details of the cases – the first in the country since May 22 – pointing instead to today’s press conference with Bloomfield.

Ardern fronted up with Bloomfield often over the last few months, so much so that she was criticised for using it for PR purposes.

“There are eight million cases worldwide. We still have New Zealanders returning home,” Ardern said. “What this does prove is the importance of a rigorous system at our border.”

That importance was proven months ago. We should have had a rigorous system at our border at least before lowering our Covid levels and allowing exemptions.

Hopefully these new cases will be contained and won’t spread further, but that would be more by good luck than god management.

But the problems may be bigger:

NZ Herald:  Two new New Zealand Covid cases from UK, Jacinda Ardern admits system ‘failure’

The women arrived in New Zealand on June 7 and applied for a dispensation on Friday June 12.

The application for leave was expedited because of the sudden death of their parent later that day, Bloomfield said, and they were allowed to leave for Wellington on the condition they were tested there.

They arrived on 7 June and were granted an exemption after 12 June without having been tested. Being asked to get tested when the got to Wellington is remarkable,.

The women, in their 30 and 40s, arrived on a flight from Britain via Doha and Brisbane.

Bloomfield wasn’t nervous that there would be a sudden outbreak because the close contacts – including people at the Novotel Ellerslie in Auckland where they stayed and on the Brisbane flight – were all being traced.

The pair were currently in quarantine at a Wellington property with a third family member – apparently the only person they have had contact with since leaving Auckland.


Warnings there isn’t enough data to make lockdown level decisions

Today the Government is going to describe in detail what a change to Level 3 and Level 2 lockdown levels will mean for us, and on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has committed to announcing a decision on whether to lower the alert level on Monday, two days before the initial 4 weeks on level 4 expires.

But experts are warning there isn’t enough data to make the decision.

RNZ: Data on contact tracing, tests, borders needed to inform lockdown level – scientists

Epidemiologist Michael Baker, who is on the Health Ministry’s Covid-19 technical advisory group, said some of the data he needed to see to be confident of going to alert level 3 may not exist yet.

“There’s a whole suite of data I would like to see, to make it really clear that we’re ready to … drop down our response level,” he said.

Prof Baker told RNZ he had been asking the ministry for weeks for certain key data about border control, contact tracing and testing but had not received it, nor had the advisory subgroup he was on with four other epidemiologists.

“I don’t think any of the epidemiologists I know have seen data covering all of these key measures.”

The public deserved to see that data before the Cabinet decision on Monday about changing the alert level, Baker said.

“Someone needs to see these data to say, yes, the system’s all performing adequately. I think that’s really vital.

“I’m hoping these data will appear very soon, because I think it is a critical input for making a decision of this magnitude.”

I would have thought that Prof. Baker would know if the data was going to be available soon or not.

Border control systems may be effective, and the data for them may exist, but it might not exist yet in the right form to be analysed properly, he said.

“It’s possible. I know getting the data into a robust form is a real challenge for our system because it has been under-resourced, progressively for many years. And this is really a massive increase in capability and expectations.”

He said clear data showing whether contact tracing was good enough to loosen restrictions should be available, but he had never seen it despite asking the ministry repeatedly for it.

It’s a bit alarming that a top Government adviser is not getting information and  data he requires to give informed advice.

Auckland University Professor Shaun Hendy is expected to submit to the government tomorrow his team’s modelling on the risks of an outbreak from easing the lockdown.

The team had about three-quarters of the data they needed, after improvements in how it was coming through in the past week, he said, but some of the contact tracing data was “really weak”.

He said the quality of data on testing was about eight or nine out of 10, but it was not easy to compile.

“Some of that information is still sent around by fax these days, so you can imagine that’s quite hard to transcribe. But we we are starting to get that information now”.

They send  data around by fax? Good grief. Not only is it ancient technology, it raises the risks if data has to be manually transcribed. I’m gobsmacked by this reliance on obsolete last century technology.

However, the team was struggling to get good data on contact tracing.

“We’re at the bottom end of the scale,” Prof Hendy said. “I understand the demands on the contact tracing operations at the moment, they’re working as fast as they can. But that’s a bit of a bit of a blind spot for us in our modelling.”

“We have some really weak idea of how much that capacity could be scaled. So let’s say we had another regional outbreak in a few weeks’ time, how much resource can be deployed to one of the regions to contain that outbreak.”

He was not confident they knew enough to make a call on going to alert level 3 region by region.

“If you’re going to relax that region earlier than the rest of the country, then there’s things you’d like to know about the way that public health is being deployed in that region that would minimise those risks,” he said.

“I think that’s a difficult call to make.

This doesn’t encourage me that information is sufficient or robust.

It also doesn’t sound  promising for a relaxation of alert level next week.