QT: more details on Covid isolation and border testing

More detail was given yesterday by Minister of Health Chris Hipkins and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Covid testing numbers for people in managed isolation and also border (airport and port) workers.

3. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Health: How many people in managed isolation have not had day-three tests since the week of 8 June?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Health): Mr Speaker, I thought the question was a bit longer than that. No—it’s been edited. The vast majority of people want to do the right thing and agree to get tested at day three and at day 12. So far, 20,065 day-three tests have been completed since 8 June. During that same time period, 19,473 day-12 tests have been completed, and there are currently 5,204 people in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ). There are some instances—[Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. I’ve warned members about that interjection which is a reflection on me and my responsibilities. Mr Goldsmith will withdraw and apologise.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: I withdraw and apologise.

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: There are some instances where it’s not appropriate to test a person with a swab, such as young babies who are six months or younger. The number of people leaving managed isolation or quarantine without a day-three test has not been collated and reported in that way because before people can leave managed isolation they must return a negative day-12 test. I’m advised that only 15 adults have refused a day-12 test, and that means that they can be required to stay up to 28 days in managed isolation.

Dr Shane Reti: Is he really telling New Zealanders that the Government cannot count the number of people who entered managed isolation and subtract the number who were tested at day three?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No, I’m saying that we don’t routinely measure the number of people who haven’t had day-three tests, because it’s not the most important consideration when it comes to our public health response. The key question that people should be asking is: “Are people being released from managed isolation at risk of taking COVID-19 into the community?” Because they get a day-12 negative test before they are released, they are not. With regards to those people who are in managed isolation, everybody who’s in managed isolation is treated as if they have COVID-19.

Dr Shane Reti: Does he agree with reports that thousands of people have not been tested at day three in managed isolation since 8 June?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The numbers simply don’t support that claim.

Dr Shane Reti: How many people in managed isolation have tested positive at day three, and how does that compare to the number who’ve tested positive at day 12?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I think the number that the member would be most interested in is that, of the people who have tested—there’s 14 people who have tested positive on the day-12 tests; of those, 12 people had a negative day-three test, only two of them didn’t have a day-three test. Those were people where they had their day-12 test shortly after we had introduced the mandatory requirements around the mandatory testing regime.

Dr Shane Reti: Have the majority of positive coronavirus tests in managed isolation been at day three and not at day 12?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes, that would appear to be the case, yes.

Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern: Can the member describe for the House the purpose of the day-three test from the Government’s perspective and a public health perspective, relative to the purpose of the day-12 test, which is primarily, of course, to ensure public safety?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The day-three test is primarily to ensure the people who have COVID-19 who are in a managed isolation and quarantine facility are getting the support that they need for that. There is very little risk to the public health from a positive day-three test because, as I’ve indicated, everybody who is managed isolation and quarantine is treated as if they have COVID-19, until such time as they get a negative day-12 test before they are released into the community.

Dr Shane Reti: If the majority of positive tests in managed isolation have been at day three, doesn’t that justify the importance of compulsory testing at day three?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The importance of compulsory testing at day 12 is to ensure COVID-19 doesn’t move out into the community. Day-three tests—which as the numbers have indicated, the vast majority of people are doing—help us to better serve the needs of the people who are in MIQ.

Dr Shane Reti: Does the modelling that the director-general used at a recent media stand-up to justify the current policy settings at the border require compulsory day-three testing; and if so, has the Government made serious border decisions on a modelling assumption that now turns out to be wrong?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I’m not sure I follow the question. Can I get the member to repeat the question?

Dr Shane Reti: Does the modelling that the director-general used at a recent media stand-up to justify the current policy settings at the border require compulsory day-three testing; and if so, has the Government made serious border decisions on a modelling assumption that now turns out to be wrong?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No, and I do want to remind the member opposite that it was only three weeks ago he was accusing me and the Government of subjecting people to medical procedures in managed isolation and quarantine that they didn’t consent to.

Dr Shane Reti: Will he require testing in managed isolation to be compulsory at day three?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The current requirement is that it’s mandatory at day 12 before somebody is released, and I have no intention of changing that because the public health grounds to do so would not be strong enough.


4. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she agree with Professor Nick Wilson from Otago University, who said, “We must have had some failure at the border, it’s unlikely there could have been silent transmission for that long”; if not, why not?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): I agree with him that it is unlikely that there could have been silent transmission for that long, and the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) analysis supports that to date. However, that does not necessarily mean there has been a failure at the border. As I said on 15 July, when announcing our resurgence plan: “We only need to look to Victoria, New South Wales, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Korea to see examples of other places that, like us, had the virus under control at a point in time only to see it emerge again. This does not mean anyone has failed. It means perfection in the response to a virus and a pandemic is just not possible.” There are a number of ways the cluster originating at Americold could have entered New Zealand. To date, we have not established the source of the cluster, but we are working hard to investigate all possible options.

Hon Judith Collins: Does she agree with Professor Des Gorman, who, following the recent revelations that 63 percent of border staff were not routinely tested, said that the community “deserves better than such a casual approach to surveillance to possible infectivity among the border workforce”; if not, why not?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member is again trying to imply, without any evidence, that that is the source of the outbreak. I again point to the fact that the vast majority—the vast majority—now of our border staff, our managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) staff, those at ports, have been tested, and to date we have not found the source of this outbreak. [Interruption] And for the member who is pitching in, the ESR evidence demonstrates that the genome sequencing suggests that the source of this outbreak was in very close proximity to the first cases, thus demonstrating that it’s not a matter of there having been, necessarily, a case that was not picked up.

Hon Dr Megan Woods: Further to the member’s answer there, can the member confirm that the—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! The Minister—the Prime Minister, in this particular case.

Hon Dr Megan Woods: Sorry. Can the Prime Minister confirm that the genomic sequencing has not formed a link with any case coming out of a manged isolation facility or indeed any other worker at the border—that that link to the B.1.1.1. genomic clade has not been established?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, I can confirm that of those tests we’ve been able to run, we have not been able to demonstrate a link between the genome sequencing of this cluster, which is a B.1.1.1. cluster, and those to date, where we’ve had the ability to test, who have come through our MIQ.

Hon Judith Collins: When did her Government ask the Ministry of Health to work through a protocol which prioritises regular testing for staff who are more front-facing and at higher risk, and did the Government ask that the strategy make weekly testing mandatory for front-facing border staff?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course, as I’ve referred to in this House on many occasions, we had a testing strategy that was endorsed by Cabinet on 22 June. It included reference to regular asymptomatic surveillance testing, which included, for example, customs, biosecurity, aviation security staff, and front-line staff at ports. Also, I had further, on 6 July, an appendix on the testing strategy in another Cabinet paper, which talked about proactive surveillance testing, including asymptomatic testing, and regular health checks of all border-facing workers—for example, air crew, customs, biosecurity, aviation security staff, and front-line staff at ports. So both on 22 June and 6 July.

Hon Judith Collins: Does she agree with Professor Nick Wilson, who said that “to prevent such outbreaks again, the Government needs to further improve the quality of its border management yet again.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I cannot tell you whether or not the member is quoting from some of the original statements from Nick Wilson, but I note her first quote was actually right at the beginning of the outbreak—so, I believe, somewhere in the order of 13 August or thereabouts. Obviously, an enormous amount of work has been done, sweeping across with surveillance testing of asymptomatic workers at our front line, and has not demonstrated a link between the outbreak at Americold’s site and our border staff. So the member can continue, of course, this line of inquiry, but I would say to the member that no one wants to find the source more than we do. It helps us make sure that we have got all of the periphery of this cluster. But it is not evidence based to imply it has come from one particular origin when we have not defined that as yet.

Hon Grant Robertson: Does the Prime Minister agree with Dr Shane Reti that it would “be almost impossible” to have 100 percent watertightness at the border, and “I don’t think anyone in anyone’s hands anywhere around the world has done that.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Dr Reti is correct because, as I’ve said, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, Australia—places that have managed to get their cases down low, although none have managed to do it for as long as we have—have all experienced resurgence. I note Vietnam reached 99 days and has been highly praised for their proactive and rigorous regime. They are yet to determine the source of their outbreak either. We will continue looking, but it is simply not fair to say that this has been illustrative of a particular failure when there is no link to our borders or anywhere else at this stage.

Hon Judith Collins: When she said yesterday, “we’ve asked the Ministry of Health to work through a protocol”—[Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! Order! I know there were two members involved in that conversation, and I can’t quite work out how it’s coming through the sound system, but it is. Can I ask Mr Seymour and Mr Shaw just to be quiet. Thank you.

Hon Judith Collins: Thank you, Mr Speaker. When she said yesterday, “we’ve asked the Ministry of Health to work through a protocol, a matrix, which prioritises more regular testing for those staff who are more front-facing and at higher risk.”, how does that differ from the testing strategy announced nine weeks ago on 23 June, which said the same thing?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Thank you for finally acknowledging that the Government did ask and seek for asymptomatic testing, because that is true, and I have produced countless evidence in the House of that. What I’ve also demonstrated is that when we originally had that working through a voucher system, we could not monitor it adequately. We moved to pop-up sites at the airport on 10 July and 16 July. Then those numbers were not adequate, and we were seeking again to scale up the border testing and had every expectation that our surveillance testing, as contained in the strategy of 22 June, would have been rolled out. We’re now working with Health to get the support of other agencies across airports and ports across the country to make sure we have that ongoing surveillance testing. I would say again, though, to the member, that we still, as yet, do not have evidence that this is where the cluster at Americold, which we have not traced any further back than 31 July, at a cool store facility in Mount Wellington—we have not as yet determined where it came from.

Hon Judith Collins: Has her Government ensured yet that border workers are getting tested weekly?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I identified yesterday, we’ve had a first sweep of staff that has included both those that you would consider at higher risk, because, roughly speaking—280 or so agency staff just at Auckland Airport alone that would be considered higher risk. There are then some that are further back that we would still want to be part of ongoing surveillance. They were part of our two weeks of sweeping through. We’ve started that again. We expect that will happen over the next fortnight again, and then, from there, we’ll have a regime that means those who are more frequently interfacing, potentially, with at-risk individuals will be tested more frequently than those who are not considered at risk but we’d still want to be part of asymptomatic surveillance testing.

Hon Judith Collins: Does she agree that Part 3, clause 18, of the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Maritime Border) Order, which deals with crew of non-departing ships who arrive in New Zealand by air, should be tightened to require mandatory testing of those replacement crews after their arrival in New Zealand?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Those crews are directed to go directly to their ships. If the member wants to stop the ability for imports and exports, that is a matter for her. We have a health order that very carefully manages the safety of our seafarers and our port workers. If anyone is to have any time in New Zealand, they must quarantine. This is an arrangement for those who are departing a departing ship.

Hon Judith Collins: So is the Prime Minister happy for such crew to fly into Auckland Airport and then fly to Wellington Airport to then board a ship without being tested?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The order is very specific about it being crew who are leaving directly, or who are coming into port and then leaving directly to their home country. That is what those orders are designed for. Of course we have regimes in place that mean people should not be having contact, outside of those arrangements, with others.


6. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Health: When he said he hadn’t read the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Testing Strategy for staff at the border, why had he not read it?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Health): The Government testing strategy is the strategy decided by Cabinet. The document that the member refers to was prepared before I became the Minister of Health, and informed the Cabinet paper on testing which was considered by Cabinet on Monday 22 June—also before I became the Minister of Health. Cabinet took decisions at that meeting, and at subsequent meetings, that went beyond the initial Ministry of Health strategy, including on the issue of asymptomatic testing. It’s the Government’s approved testing strategy that I have been focused on the implementation of. Though I am a diligent and conscientious reader, I have not read every document the Ministry of Health prepared before I became the Minister.

Dr Shane Reti: Was this an important document for the Minister to read?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I think the member, once again, should have listened to the answers before reading pre-scripted supplementary questions. As I indicated, the document was prepared before I became the Minister and informed Cabinet’s approved testing strategy. Of course, as a member of Cabinet, I read that document even before I became the Minister.

Dr Shane Reti: Does he agree with the strategy recommendation that testing of all border-facing staff is not viable?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No. The advice at the time—and bearing in mind that the Government did get advice that there would be some difficulties around implementing that—was that we needed to find ways to get past those difficulties and make sure that that testing strategy was implemented, and that’s what we have done.

Dr Shane Reti: Have all border-facing staff, including staff at managed isolation facilities, been tested for coronavirus, and have they all got their results?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes. In terms of the managed isolation, yes. In terms of those front-facing airport workers that are at higher risk, yes. In terms of the port workers that are at higher risk, yes. Has absolutely everybody who has been at the port, for example, been tested? The vast majority of them have been. There will still be some where they may have moved on, for example, or we may not have been able to get in touch with them. That would be a very small number of people. About 13,000 people in the overall categories that I just mentioned have been tested over the last two weeks, and a second sweep of testing those people is happening again now.

Dr Shane Reti: Will it be compulsory for all border-facing staff, including staff at managed isolation facilities, to be tested weekly?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Not necessarily. The Government is currently doing a second sweep of everybody. By the end of that second sweep we will release a schedule that will set out how frequently people in different roles need to be tested. That will be based on a risk assessment, so that the lowest risk people are tested less frequently and the higher risk people are tested more frequently.

Dr Shane Reti: How infrequently could low-risk people be tested?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Those decisions have not yet been made.

Dr Shane Reti: When he said last week that staff testing failures were reported to him but were not facility-specific, why was the Jet Park, a high-risk quarantine facility, not reported separately?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I reject the first part of the question; that’s not what I said last week.


From Question 4 last Wednesday (19 August):

4. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Health: Did he receive reports on coronavirus testing of staff at Jet Park Hotel, Auckland; if so, from what date?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Health): Yes. I’ve had many conversations with officials regarding testing at managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities since becoming Minister of Health. In general, reports and advice were not facility-specific and covered all of the sites. It’s important to note that testing for Jet Park staff has been available since 26 March, when that facility was first stood up. On 22 July, I was advised that rolling testing was being implemented at MIQ facilities, and had commenced at the Jet Park in Auckland and Christchurch on Friday, 10 July. This was the first written report I received specifically describing the testing of Jet Park staff. In addition, as late as 11 August—the day before the current outbreak—my office was advised the programme of testing of asymptomatic MIQ and border workers had been ramped up to commence weekly testing for staff at the quarantine high-risk facilities in Auckland Jet Park and Christchurch, and fortnightly testing for staff working in managed isolation low-risk facilities. Of course, by the time I had the opportunity to read that and ask questions about that, we were already dealing with the current cluster.

Dr Shane Reti: How many reports or updates did he receive indicating incomplete weekly testing of staff at Jet Park from the date he was told they were being tested weekly?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I did not receive a facility by facility breakdown of the testing of staff.

Dr Shane Reti: Given he said yesterday that several weeks ago, the Ministry of Health notified him in writing that all staff at Jet Park were being tested weekly, when did he relay that information to Cabinet, if at all?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The 22 July memo that I was referring to was specifically provided in the context of the Cabinet committee meeting that was happening that morning. They were the talking points that I was given by Health for that meeting.

Dr Shane Reti: When did he relay the information on incomplete weekly testing of all staff at Jet Park to Cabinet, if at all?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I think if the member had listened to my last question, it would be very evident that it was on 22 July I reported that to the relevant Cabinet committee.

Dr Shane Reti: Can I confirm that on 22 July, he notified the Cabinet committee that all staff at Jet Park were being tested weekly and that there was incomplete weekly testing?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No, I think I have literally just told the member what I told Cabinet on 22 July—that I was advised that rolling testing was being implemented at MIQ facilities and had commenced at the Jet Park in Auckland and Christchurch on Friday, 10 July.

Dr Shane Reti: What is the first date that he received Jet Park – specific testing information?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: It would have been within the last week, in the context of the investigations around this current cluster.

Government deserves scrutiny over border testing failures

In the main the Government has managed the Covid pandemic very well, especially compared to many other countries.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has handled communications very effectively most of the time. But she and her Government seem too have dropped the ball over botched border facility testing, and she is now trying to avoid taking responsibility.

If David Clark was still Minister of health he would likely have been widely condemned and probably sacked over the failures. But his successor Chris Hipkins is trying to deflect responsibility, and shift attention to fixing the problems while downplaying the problems, how they came about and who should be held responsible.

Political opponents have justifiably been trying to hold the Government to account.

NZ Herald: Winston Peters claims mystery Rydges case is a ‘second border breach’ as 97 per cent of MIQ workers tested

All staff and guests are being re-tested at the Auckland border hotel where a maintenance worker has tested positive for Covid-19 as mystery hangs over how he got infected.

It comes on top of the massive exercise to test every frontline border worker in an effort to track down the source of the Americold outbreak which is on track to be the largest cluster yet.

But so far the sources of the latest mystery case and the Americold cluster remain unknown, despite the Deputy Prime Minister saying there’d been “a second border breach” and someone should be sacked.

Winston Peters said the Health Minister was accountable for the failure in testing at the border, but he was not responsible so shouldn’t resign and neither should the director general of health.

“What you have to do though is find out where the direction was followed and if it wasn’t followed, why, and if it’s inadequate in terms of an answer then that person must go – it’s that simple.”

I agree with him on this.

Government Minister Megan Woods said the results of the re-tests of Rydges staff and guests would be known today.

“We have a case of a singular worker who has contracted the virus,” Woods told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking today. “We are still trying to track down why. We know from the genome sequencing it’s not connected to the cluster that’s happening in Auckland at the moment.”

“It’s not the border leaking. We can’t even establish a person-to-person contact for how this man did contract this. We have gone through very methodically, through all the evidence, about where he was as a maintenance worker, what rooms he was in. There is absolutely no evidence this is a border leak. Obviously something has happened – we will continue to chase it down.”

Woods is trying to downplay this with ‘singular’ but this is a serious concern.

Actually if it isn’t a border leak it must be more community spread with the source unknown, which is even more concerning.

Newsroom: Government feels the heat over border testing

Then it was Hipkins’ turn to face the music, highlighting “incredible surge testing” in the week since Covid-19 was detected in the community while also acknowledging “that testing of staff working at our border has been too slow”.

“It has not met the very clear expectations of the minister, the decisions that Cabinet has made were not implemented in a timely or a robust manner, and that is disappointing and frustrating.”

National’s finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith, a rare strong performer for the party during the pandemic, had the first opportunity for the Opposition to respond, and from the outset tried to use Jacinda Ardern’s own words against her.

“The Prime Minister said, back in April, the last thing we want to do is to yo-yo back into lockdown. We were told we went hard and early and we stayed longer in lockdown the first time, those additional hard weeks, because we wanted to avoid a yo-yo back into lockdown, and here we are again…

“So that’s why it’s been so puzzling and, frankly, annoying to many New Zealanders when they’ve seen so many elements of the border being dealt with in a loose fashion despite all the talk.”

There was “complete disjuncture and confusion in the Government” on the issue of testing at the border, Goldsmith said, coupled with complacency.

“We’ve got through the initial lockdown, they sat back and said: ‘Yes, we’ve done it, we’ve smashed it, we’ve crushed it’ – there was an element of self-congratulation – and the preparation for the possibility of another community lockdown does not appear to have been properly prepared for.”

The line clearly struck a nerve: Ardern usually refrains from interjections, yet on this occasion yelled from across the chamber: “When we prepared, you said we were scaremongering.”

But ACT leader David Seymour continued on the theme of the Government’s ill-preparedness, arguing it had “chose[n] to spend time doing a little dance and engaging in a victory lap” instead of mending the holes which appear to have been exposed by the latest outbreak.

Question Time saw National try to home in on the outstanding questions around the border testing regime, leader Judith Collins going head to head with Ardern before deputy leader Gerry Brownlee took on Housing Minister Megan Woods and National’s health spokesperson Shane Reti squared up against Hipkins.

This is what Question Time in Parliament should be used for, holding the Government to account for failures, and in this case serious failures that has led to an outbreak of Covid, people becoming sick with some hospitalised, many businesses severely affected by increased lockdowns, and impacts on the lives of all of us, especially those in Auckland.

Michael Morrah (Newshub): Senior quarantine whistleblower says staff were refused regular testing programme despite pleas

A senior quarantine official has blown the whistle on the border-testing botch-up.

He says claims that staff were reluctant to be tested are not correct – and that workers requested a regular testing programme “multiple times”, but their concerns were ignored.

“They haven’t taken our protection or the wider community’s protection seriously by not having a testing programme,” he tells Newshub.

The worker, who’s been at the airport ten years, says frontline staff requested a regular testing programme “multiple times”, but management declined this.

“Just [got] told it wasn’t available, or they didn’t have the resources to do it,” he says.

Health Minister Chris Hipkins says “they should not have been declined tests”.

And Biosecurity New Zealand Northern Regional Commissioner Mike Inglis says they’ve “made sure that we’ve encouraged staff to be tested”.

“At any point if a staff member feels ill they’ve been told to stay at home,” he adds.

And Newshub can reveal that in the past month, at least 18 Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) staff, who interacted with returnees, have been sent from the airport to work in other parts of Auckland and other cities – all without a COVID-19 test.

It was on June 23 that the Government announced its border testing strategy. But no such strategy was ever put in place.

“As for regular testing, there was nothing,” the quarantine official says.

The Government, particularly Hipkins and Ardern, can’t just gloss over this.

But the Prime Minister says some workers didn’t want tests.

“We have picked up on reluctance among staff,” Jacinda Ardern told The AM Show.

National leader Judith Collins says Ardern is “entirely wrong”.

And Newshub’s insider says staff have not been reluctant.

“Definitely false. Staff were upfront wanting tests and were making themselves available for them,” the official says.

Those representing staff like the front of house workers and room attendants at managed isolation hotels say they too have not resisted tests.

“The issue has not been from our members, or our workers getting in the way of testing at all,” says Unite Union national secretary Gerard Hehir.

He says if a policy is announced, it must be implemented.

“It shows the danger of policy by press release, that actually there needs to be follow-through,” he says.

In Parliament yesterday Ardern said that Covid shouldn’t be politicised – but management of the pandemic is inextricably linked to politics. Ardern spent much of her election campaign launch speech promoting her management of Covid. She can’t use it for political purposes when it suits her but claim it isn’t political when things turn to custard.

I agree with the decision to delay the election, but a bonus from that is that Parliament is back in action, which is allowing the Government to be held to account over their handling of Covid, especially the badly botched border testing.

And media deserve credit also for investigating and highlighting some of the problems, especially Michael Morrah from Newshub.

Two new Covid cases, border controls seem to have failed

Two people who came to New Zealand and then were allowed to break their quarantine and travel from Auckland to Wellington to see a dying relative have tested positive for Covid.

Why the hell isn’t everyone coming into the country not tested for Covid before allowed to break quarantine?

New Zealand has been very lucky in containing Covid, but people coming into the country have been the biggest risk and border controls have always seemed to be inadequate.

RNZ:  Two new Covid-19 cases in NZ visited dying parent – Bloomfield

In a statement released this afternoon, the Ministry of Health said the two new cases were related to the border as a result of recent travel from the UK.

The ministry said both cases were connected, but offered little further information, leaving questions for Dr Bloomfield’s media briefing.

Dr Bloomfield said they were both women aged in their 30s and 40s respectively, and were from the same family. They arrived in New Zealand from the UK on 7 June.

“A new case is something we hoped we wouldn’t get, but it’s also something we expected and have planned for.”

They traveled from the UK via Doha and then Brisbane. Australian authorities were contacted to trace people in Australia, Dr Bloomfield said. It was uncertain where they became infected.

As part of their agreed plan under the compassionate circumstances agreement, they were tested in Wellington. Both have since gone into self-isolation in the Wellington region.

Again, why the hell weren’t they tested as soon as they arrived in the country? Or at least before they were allowed to leave quarantine?

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.

It can’t have been working as intended, unless the intentions were badly flawed.

Disapproval of Trump, Democrats and Republicans over shutdown

It isn’t surprising to see disapproval of the US President and both parties over the current Government shutdown over the wall impasse – a fundamental part of governing should be to fund current services and employees.

CBS News poll: Trump, Democrats and GOP draw disapproval over shutdown

In a new CBS News/YouGov poll, President Donald Trump, congressional Democrats and congressional Republicans all draw lackluster marks for their handling of the government shutdown, with Americans expressing net disapproval for all three.

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Trump’s overall job approval has also dipped to 53.9% disapprove, 41% approve – see FiveThirtyEight.

Partisan splits are locked in: More than eight in ten Republicans approve of the president’s handling of the shutdown, while seven in ten Democrats approve of congressional Democrats’ handling.

That’s not surprising. But overall Trump is seen as the chump.

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A majority see the border problem as a problem rather than a crisis…

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…and even 38% of Republicans don’t see it as a crisis.

Despite all this disapproval U.S. Government Shutdown Hits Record Length With No End Seen (Bloomberg):

The U.S. government shutdown over President Donald Trump’s demand for border wall funding became the longest in the modern era as it stretched into its 22nd day Saturday with no end in sight.

Negotiations are at a standstill and no more talks are scheduled for the weekend or early next week. The White House scuttled efforts to reach a deal on Capitol Hill on Thursday, and Trump’s budget team is drawing up contingency plans for a shutdown that extends through the end of February, according to an administration official.

About 800,000 federal workers missed their pay for the first time Friday –at least some receiving pay stubs for $0.00 — as unions sued the government for requiring their members to work without pay. At least one airport planned to close a concourse as absences rose among security screeners who haven’t received their wages. Trump said Friday that he planned to sign a bill guaranteeing that federal employees will be given back pay once the government reopens.

Even if they are eventually paid back a month or two without pay will make things difficult for many employees, and air travel disruptions will annoy many more people.

Democrats and the president remain at loggerheads, with party leaders saying they won’t agree to fund any kind of wall or barrier and Trump insisting he won’t agree to reopen the government until the wall is funded.

I’m surprised the disapprovals aren’t greater – but if the impasse continues on then there is likely to be more against the political nonsense in Washington.

I’m astounded that budget related Government shutdowns are able to and are allowed to occur at all.

Reaction to Trump’s border wall speech – more crisis in Washington?

After Donald trump asked all major US television channels to broadcast live a speech on trying to secure funding to progress his Mexican border wall project, there has been a range of reactions.  As usual both sides of the standoff deserve criticism.

The United State’s southern border is a major problem, but Trump’s (and his Administration’s) handling of it has been terrible. Bluster, tantrum and false claims keep Trump in the firing line for criticism, dominating the problems.

Washington Examiner editorial:  All’s not well at the southern border

We do not have an emergency at the southern border, and so it’s good President Trump did not try to seize power by declaring a state of emergency during his national address on Tuesday night.

We do have a serious problem with border security, and so it’s unfortunate Democrats and the press have tried to downplay the problem.

Some of our southern border has physical barriers. For much of it, though, we depend on natural barriers to deter illegal entry, such as the cruel desert or the Rio Grande. If it’s already illegal and deadly to cross in these places, there’s little sense to the protestations by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that a physical barrier there would be immoral.

Of course, Trump doesn’t help his cause when he exaggerates, misrepresents, and misunderstands the facts. It’s not true that terrorists are streaming across our southern border. It’s also not true that our unprotected border areas are the main avenue for illegal drugs — those are mostly smuggled in through valid border crossings, as far as the data can tell us.

Is the problem growing, declining, or generally steady? That depends on how you measure it. We wouldn’t call it an emergency, and we argued against such a declaration by Trump.

But Trump has a magical power to control what people think, particularly his opponents. Trump’s overblown statements about terrorists, heroin, and emergencies have driven his critics to declare our southern border is just fine. That’s a lie.

Are there really people saying the US-Mexican border is just fine?

Our border is porous, and our country suffers from it. Better physical barriers would help. Once we accept that basic truth, we can have a better debate.

It looks unlikely that trump is interested in debate let alone better debate.

New York Times:  The Crisis Is in the Oval Office

How fitting is it that President Trump’s first Oval Office address, which he requested be televised live in prime time by every major network, was aimed at stirring up the American public about a crisis largely of his own making?

Pursuing poorly thought-out and even more poorly executed policies on the pretext of battling a nonexistent national security crisis, Mr. Trump has helped create a pressing humanitarian one.

Mr. Trump is now invoking the urgency of the situation as a justification for pursuing more wasteful, hard-line measures that most Americans do not support, chiefly the ludicrous border wall over which he has shut down critical pieces of the government. The president and his enablers have been busily knitting together inaccurate data, misleading anecdotes, exaggerations and other “alternative facts” about the flow of criminals, drugs and terrorists across the southern border.

Failing that, Mr. Trump has also been floating the possibility of stiff-arming Congress altogether. With his advisers increasingly anxious that Republican lawmakers are poised to abandon them on the shutdown, the president has raised the threat of declaring a national emergency, which he thinks would allow him to command the Pentagon to build his wall.

Such a move would prompt a swift and furious legal challenge, if not a full-blown constitutional crisis, that could drag on indefinitely.

I wouldn’t rule out this being a plan of Trump’s. Who would know what his aim is?

While Mr. Trump proved a wily campaigner and political street fighter, as president he has been painfully out of his element. Two years in, he remains ill suited to the complicated, thankless, often grinding work of leading the nation. Governance clearly bores him, as do policy details both foreign and domestic. He has proved a poor judge of talent. He prefers grandstanding to negotiating, and he continues to have trouble with the whole concept of checks and balances.

While the Republican base remains enamored of him, most of the electorate has grown weary of his outrages and antics.

Which is why, with his wall on the line, Mr. Trump so desperately needs to convince the American people that they are facing an acute crisis — maybe even a bona fide emergency.

Josh Campbell (CNN):  Presidential address: The one word Trump didn’t say

In recent days, his administration has sought to whip up fear by scaring people into believing our nation faced a major crisis involving known or suspected terrorists attempting to gain entry in the country. The goal appeared to be trying to manipulate the public’s emotions to persuade people that a border wall would stop dangerous terrorists from coming into the country to kill innocent Americans.

After persistent and repeated fact-checking by journalists and experts, all pointing out the administration’s lies and misleading statements, the White House seems to have retreated from the terror scare. In addressing the nation Tuesday, Trump never uttered the word terrorism.

Last week, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen stood in the White House Rose Garden and caused jaws to drop by publicly indicating authorities had stopped over 3,000 known or suspected terrorists from entering the southern border.

Vice President Michael Pence later echoed these same figures on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

The problem is, this number was in part highly misleading and in part actually false, as it referred to a broad category of people, based in part on their country of origin, not necessarily their own individual actions, and mischaracterized where they entered the country.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told the biggest whopper of them all, insisting last weekend on Fox News that nearly 4,000 terrorists actually made their way into the country, adding “we know that our most vulnerable point of entry is at our southern border.” She was fact-checked in real-time by host Chris Wallace, who pointed out that although suspected terrorists have been prevented from entering the country, their method of transit was mainly airports, not just the southern border. He said, “They’re not coming across the southern border, Sarah, they’re coming and they’re being stopped at airports.”

The false Sanders narrative went uncorrected by anyone from the Trump administration until Tuesday, when Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway finally shrugged it off as “an unfortunate misstatement,” adding, “Everyone makes mistakes.”

Some make more ‘mistakes’ than others.

One of the biggest mistakes being made by Trump and his administration is the amount of bullshit they keep spinning. They have got away with a lot, but soft supporters must gradually be questioning their truthlessness and lack of honesty.

Howard Kurtz (Fox News):  Many pundits rip Trump’s border speech — both before and after

President Trump used his much-disputed television time to portray the border as a humanitarian and law-enforcement crisis of the “heart” and “soul,” but not before some media organizations preemptively accused him of spreading lies about the issue.

The president, in sober tones, said nothing about declaring a national emergency, focusing instead on how migrant children are used as “human pawns” and how drugs and criminals are pouring across the border. He also made the economic case, saying illegal immigrants drive down wages, especially for blacks and Hispanics. And he declared that “the federal government remains shut down for one reason and one reason only” — that the Democrats refuse to provide $5.7 billion for “border security.”

Nancy Pelosi, with Chuck Schumer, soon offered the rebuttal, saying the Democrats were all for border security, but not an ineffective wall. She said Trump was holding federal workers “hostage” and that his remarks were “full of misinformation and even malice” — a phrase the Democrats had used hours before the Oval Office address.

In similar fashion, some cable news anchors who had been predicting the president would lie in his speech came on the air soon afterward to make that charge, which was not leveled at the Democratic leaders.

Despite the enormous buildup, nothing that either side said seemed likely to change many minds — or hasten an end to the 18-day partial shutdown.

There is a growing crisis for many Government workers:

There’s a case to be made that this is an artificial crisis, with Trump using the border situation to pound away at his signature promise to build a wall and the Democrats determined to deny him that funding. But there’s also a very real crisis, in which both parties play a role, as 800,000 federal workers continue to go without paychecks and the ripple effects of the partial shutdown are increasingly hitting the economy.

But there’s no denying the political dimension of the shutdown. Half an hour after the Trump speech, his campaign sent out a fundraising pitch saying “he will NOT cave to the Democrats when it comes to YOUR SAFETY…The President is counting on you in this fight, we must hit our goal of $500,000 in ONE DAY.”

Does Trump have a fundraising crisis? This was Trump’s first Oval Office address in two years of office. It seems cynical to use that as a fundraising opportunity.

Trump is due to visit the southern border soon, in an apparent PR blitz, but so far the Democrats who now have the numbers to allow or deny him his wall funding are holding out.

While it can be argued that there is some sort of crisis on the border, it is getting easier to argue that there is a growing crisis in Washington – their dysfunctional system of government looks like it’s in a slide downhill.

Border control and caging kids

US border control has been in the spotlight more than ever, as a promised clampdown on illegal immigration from Mexico ramps up, and as threatened, children are being separated from parents and contained in cage-like structures.

Being tough on immigration is popular, but being heartless with kids involved is not going down so well.

As usual Donald Trump’s rhetoric is swinging wildly – From ‘I Alone Can Fix It’ to ‘Change the Laws!’

Nearly two years ago, on July 21, 2016, Donald Trump stood at a lectern in Cleveland and made a solemn vow.

“Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it,” he said.

To his critics, this line was chilling, even authoritarian, defying the democratic nature of the American system. But to many of Trump’s supporters, it was a heartening moment—a sign that he would not allow himself to be tied up in red tape and mealy-mouthed excuses. There would be none of the vacillating and hand-wringing of the Obama administration. President Trump would not hesitate.

Candidate Trump was clear that he was talking, in large part, about immigration, which had been the central issue of his campaign:

Tonight, I want every American whose demands for immigration security have been denied—and every politician who has denied them—to listen very closely to the words I am about to say. On January 21st of 2017, the day after I take the oath of office, Americans will finally wake up in a country where the laws of the United States are enforced. We are going to be considerate and compassionate to everyone.

So Trump promised to be both tough and compassionate.

But his administration also threatened that their children would be separated if illegal immigrants tried to cross the border.

In fact, as my colleagues and I have reported repeatedly, the policy dates to May, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the federal government would prosecute everyone caught crossing the border illegally. Because an existing legal settlement bars children from being imprisoned, that decision means children and parents are separated. The Trump administration knew this would happen from the start.

In May, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly described separations as “a tough deterrent” to those who might try to cross. Sessions said around the same time, “If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally.”

There were clear warnings – those wanting to cross the border may not have heard them, but the intention was clear.

Image result for caging children usa

And now that this is being done and criticism mounts – including from Trump’s wife and all four other living ex- First Ladies – Mr Fixit is now blaming others.

Trump and the Republicans rule in the White House.

Republicans have a majority in both the Senate and Congress.

So it’s rather disingenuous to blame a clearly signalled family separation policy on the Democrats who have no power to change laws.

But that’s how Trump operates – talks a big game, but blames his political opponents or the media if things don’t look good.

The US has had very loose immigration control for a long time and a clampdown is justified. The splitting of children from parents as a threat tactic is more debatable.

But Trump hasn’t got the integrity to own his administration’s actions.

‘Caging’ kids is not even new. June 2014 (pre-Trump): Immigrant children flood detention center

Young boys sleep in a holding cell U.S. Customs and

Holding cell, US Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center, 18 June 2014.
https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/childrens-concentration-camp/

Trump could blame a Democrat administration for doing it too, but instead he tries to blame them now for something his administration is responsible for it.