Dunedin hospital rebuild delayed further, another Labour commitment failure

Before the last election Labour criticised the then National Government for delays in building a new hospital, and committed to starting the rebuild of in their first term. But the Labour Government has kept pushing out a decision and the rebuild to further than National had indicated, and have just announced they won’t even make a final decision until next year.

Before the 2017 election Labour stated: Rebuilding Dunedin Hospital

All New Zealanders should be able to get the healthcare they need, when they need it. Dunedin Hospital serves 300,000 people in the city and the surrounding regions, but it is no longer fit for delivering modern healthcare to a population with increasing health needs.

For years, Dunedin Hospital has needed to be rebuilt.

The current Government has finally committed to making a decision on the rebuild but Cabinet won’t consider the details until sometime next year and it plans for the new hospital to be up to 10 years away.

Up to ten years away then was up to 2027.

With Labour’s approach, Dunedin will have a new hospital as soon as possible, and the taxpayer will get the best value for money. Avoiding further delay will minimise costs and mean patients get better care more quickly.

Labour will: commit to beginning construction of the new Dunedin Hospital within our first term

This project is expected to cost $1.4 billion, and will deliver the most modern hospital in New Zealand, ready to serve Dunedin and the Lower South Island for decades to come.

But the Labour Government hasn’t avoided further delays. While land has been purchased and buildings are being demolished, there is no sign of a start on the outpatients block let alone the new hospital.

This week: Government confirms new Dunedin Hospital design

The Government has agreed on a preferred design for the new Dunedin Hospital featuring two separate buildings, and has provided funding for the next stages of work.

Minister of Health Chris Hipkins says Cabinet has approved in principle the detailed business case for the new hospital, giving people in the Southern region certainty and confidence in the design and ongoing progress.

But there is no certainty, still.

“Cabinet agreed the detailed business case in principle as it’s important the project maintains momentum and demolition and design milestones are reached. We’ve released $127 million to progress design, demolition, piling, project management and early contractor engagement.

“It’s expected the total budget for the project will now exceed $1.4 billion. This will be confirmed once concept design is finished and costings can be finalised. The final details of the business case are expected go to Cabinet for approval by February 2021.

While it looks probably that Labour will be back in Government next year and hopefully the Cabinet will approve proceeding with the rebuild they promised a start in their first term, so have failed to deliver.

Outpatients (at almost 15,000 sqm) is due to be complete by early 2025, with Inpatients (at around 73,500 sqm) due to be finished in the first quarter of 2028.

‘Inpatients’ is code for ‘hospital’. The small outpatients block will be built before the actual hospital is started, possibly in 2025 but that’s far from certain.

And the planned completion date is after what the previous Government had projected. If National had stayed on in Government there’s no guarantee they would have delivered either, but Labour has been no better.

Implementation Business Cases for each building – Outpatients in mid-2021 and Inpatients by the end of 2021, will be considered by joint Ministers of Health and Finance, prior to confirming the main contractor for each building.

Having committed to commencing a rebuild “in our first term” (which ends next month) they now say they will only consider the Implementation Business Case for the hospital building “by the end of 2021”.

The Labour Government is throwing billions of dollars at infrastructure and ‘shovel ready’ projects all over the country, but Dunedin, and Otago and Southland, are a long way from getting a replacement regional hospital for what three years ago Labour described as “no longer fit for delivering modern healthcare“.

This re-emphasises the reality that election campaign pledges, promises and commitments (from any party) are often deliberate delusions aimed at gullible voters.

RNZ three years ago: Ardern raises stakes over Dunedin hospital

Ms Ardern was confident her party could build the hospital faster than the National Party’s seven to 10 year estimation.

“The hospital at present is dangerous and unsafe for staff and patients. Most of the existing buildings would not survive a severe earthquake.

“Things are so bad that at the moment operations have to be delayed because of the leaks when it rains. Dunedin Hospital is no longer fit for purpose,” she said.

Serious problems with the current buildings are ongoing.

Last month: Progress on ICU air conditioning

New air-conditioning machinery will be installed in a bid to get Dunedin Hospital’s multimillion-dollar new intensive care department fully functional.

Ventilation issues delayed the opening of stage one of the project for four months in 2018-19; the second stage was meant to open at the start of this year, but its 10 critical care beds remain unused.

The project has been bedevilled by the hospital building’s old air-conditioning machinery, which has proven inadequate to meet the demands of a modern critical care unit.

A new critical care unit can’t be used because of problems with the building.

The new ICU was commissioned by the SDHB to tide it over until the new Dunedin Hospital is built.

It replaces a dark, cramped ward that has poor facilities for patients, their families and staff with bright, spacious rooms and modern equipment, an upgrade staff have been eagerly awaiting.

They could be waiting another ten years.

Earlier this week Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke to the Otago Daily Times:

…Ms Ardern said Labour remained ‘‘absolutely’’ committed to the rebuild of Dunedin Hospital, and also wanted to continue investment on upgrading Otago and Southland school buildings.

‘‘I remember very early on visiting Dunedin Hospital and it was just so clear what was needed there,’’ she said.

But it’s still far from clear what Labour’s ‘absolute’ commitment to the rebuild of the Dunedin Hospital amounts to. Niceness doesn’t provide adequate modern hospitals, nor does it save lives.

Collins says she will “get to the bottom of” misleading advertising

Judith Collins says she will find out who is responsible for advertising that was said to be authorised by her and has been found to be misleading by the Speaker, Trevor Mallard.

Social media campaigns that look linked to the National Party have been controversial, especially those promoted by Collins’ husband – see Collins ‘can’t control husband’ but he’s very unhelpful.

In Parliament yesterday:

PRIVILEGE

Misrepresentation—Reply to a Written Question

SPEAKER: Members, I have received a letter from the Hon Chris Hipkins raising with me a matter of privilege: the alteration and misrepresentation of a reply to a written question posted by the National Party on social media.

The content—altered reply purporting to be from the Minister of Health and is on the face of it misleading. In normal circumstances I would be inclined to find that a question of privilege is involved and refer the matter to the Privileges Committee.

The post purports to be authorised by the Leader of the Opposition, although she has assured me that she did not see it before publication.

The general manager of the New Zealand National Party has taken responsibility for it.

So this has been directly linked to the National Party.

The post involved the manufacture of fake ministerial letterhead to lend authenticity to the misrepresentation. However, the Leader of the Opposition has apologised, I have been assured that the material has been removed from social media, and in light of the impending dissolution of Parliament I do not intend to take any further action.

Newshub: Judith Collins vows to find out who created ‘misleading’ National ad with her name on it

The image, which was posted on party social media platforms, shows Hipkins replying to a written question from National Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti about testing numbers in managed isolation facilities. However, the text is on a manufactured ministerial letterhead and contains just part of Hipkins’ answer.

Collins told The AM Show on Wednesday morning that she wasn’t behind the faked letterhead – but she would find out who was. 

“Well, not me. I am going to find out today. I am going to get to the bottom of it. It’s possibly someone trying to be clever. I am particularly annoyed that it has happened. It’s not like its $11.7 million for the Green School. But it’s still not acceptable and I will sort it out today”.

The leader reiterated that she did not sign the post off, despite it saying she had done so. 

“No, I did not and I didn’t even see it. That will also be dealt with today. So, you can just imagine, it’s going to be an interesting morning”.

“We will sort it out today. I would say it is possibly an error from someone who is overly enthusiastic, but whatever, it’s not acceptable, and certainly not putting my name on things when it’s not true. I will be sorting it today. It will be sorted.”

It could have been someone in the party’s digital team, she said.

“Well, we will find out. I don’t know so I will find out. I would say it is possibly someone in the digital team. But whatever it is, we will find out. But let’s get it in perspective here. Someone has made an error and I have apologised on behalf of the National Party. I certainly didn’t know about it.” 

Collins doesn’t appear to have committed to doing anything if she finds out who is responsible.

She said yesterday she couldn’t control her husband, but she could stop him spreading around social media attacks if she stops her party creating the attack posts in the first place.

Shaw publicly apologises but pressure continues over Green School handout

Yesterday James Shaw fronted up to media at midday and apologised and apologised for the $11.7 million funding of a private Green school in Taranaki, but the hits kept coming, possible from within the Government.

Later in the day from Newshub: Green co-leader James Shaw refused to sign-off on $3bn of infrastructure projects unless Green School was included

Newshub has obtained an email that went to Government ministers and the Treasury from Shaw’s office and it included a stark ultimatum.

That sounds like someone with access to Government emails has given it to Newshub.

“Minister Shaw won’t sign this briefing until the Green School in Taranaki is incorporated.”

The email said Shaw discussed the ultimatum with the Education Minister. 

“Minister Shaw has also discussed this one with Minister Hipkins.

“Sorry to be the spanner-in-the-works, but if we can get the project included, he’ll sign everything this afternoon,” the email said.

This could be a spanner in the works for Shaw trying to put this behind him and the green campaign.

Newshub asked Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson if she recognised that it may have jeopardised the Greens’ chances of returning to Parliament.

“It’s very clear, there’s no denying that already we were hovering around 5 percent,” she said.

But Shaw seems confident he will stay on.

“I don’t think this is a resignation level event,” he said.

Shaw said if he was making the same decision on the Green School funding he would not support it.

With a deep sigh, he said: “I feel terrible about the way that this has played out.” 

I’m sure he does feel terrible about it.

From the earlier apology media conference from The Spinoff:

James Shaw has apologised for his decision to support a controversial “Green School” in Taranaki, but hurled criticism at the previous National government for underfunding schools that need help.

“The decision to support this project was an error of judgement. If I was making the same decision again I would not support the project.”

“So again, I apologise. I apologise to parents, to teachers and unions. I apologise to Green Party members who… have felt demoralised by this decision. I apologise to the schools in Taranaki who quite rightfully want the best for their children. And I want you to know, all of you, that I have listened to your concerns,” Shaw said.

In response to a question from a reporter, Shaw said the New Plymouth mayor, Neil Holdom, introduced him to the couple who started the school. “Ironically, one of the things I said to them was ‘are you sure you want to come to the Crown because often government money is more trouble than it’s worth.’ They were clear at that point that the project would not proceed, and the mayor was quite keen for it to proceed.”

This is an ongoing problem for Shaw and the Greens but could also impact on the Government.

The leaked email “said Shaw discussed the ultimatum with the Education Minister”. That was confirmed in Question Time yesterday, but the email wasn’t disclosed.

7. NICOLA WILLIS (National) to the Minister of Education: Was he or the Ministry of Education consulted about any aspect of the application by Green School New Zealand for funding prior to its announcement; if so, did he raise concerns about providing Government funding for this project?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): I had a conversation about the application with James Shaw towards the end of July and I gave him feedback that from an educational portfolio perspective the school would not be a priority for investment.

Nicola Willis: Was he aware of Treasury advice that “… it would be inappropriate to announce or provide government funding for a project that does not yet have the necessary education approvals”, and has the Green School met the legal requirements for registration?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No, I wouldn’t have seen that advice because I was not one of the Ministers involved in approving the project.

Nicola Willis: Has the Green School qualified for legal registration as a private school, including meeting all requirements around suitable tuition standards and staffing standards?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I’m not aware of that. Of course, private schools have an application process that they have to go through. As Minister I don’t make that decision. That decision’s made by the Ministry of Education.

Willis followed that up with questions to Shaw:

8. NICOLA WILLIS (National) to the Associate Minister of Finance: Does he stand by the entirety of his press statement on 26 August confirming $11.7 million in funding for Green School New Zealand, and on what evidence did he base each of the claims made in that statement?

Hon JAMES SHAW (Associate Minister of Finance): Yes, I stand by my statement based on reports provided to me by the Infrastructure Industry Reference Group (IRG). That being said, understanding the depth of feeling in the community about this funding, were I to make this decision again, I would come to a different conclusion.

Nicola Willis: Is a contract in place for the Government’s deal with the green school, and has he taken any legal advice about his options for unwinding his mistake?

Hon JAMES SHAW: Well, Ministers cannot get involved in the contracting between the Crown and the various projects.

Nicola Willis: Did the Minister get involved in making clear his expectation that the green school should achieve legal registration as a school prior to receiving taxpayer money; and, if not, why not?

Hon JAMES SHAW: I don’t believe I did.

Nicola Willis: Did he meet with anyone involved in the green school prior to or during the application process for shovel-ready funding; and, if so, who?

Hon JAMES SHAW: On 18 May, the Mayor of New Plymouth, Neil Holdom, came to see me in my office and introduced me to the people who’ve started the green school. He was quite keen that we support the project.

Nicola Willis: Does he agree with Minister Hipkins that the Green Party had advocated “quite strongly” for the green school; and, if so, why did he reject the Minister’s advice that the funding should not go ahead?

Hon JAMES SHAW: It wasn’t the Green Party; it was me because it was a ministerial decision and not one that was shared with caucus, because, of course, as a budget confidential decision, Ministers are unable to share that outside of their offices. So I would say it’s not accurate to say that the Green Party advocated for it, but I did personally.

So Shaw says he didn’t share the decision with the Green caucus, he did it alone. Perhaps he will now be asked if he shared with the caucus his ultimatum to not support the whole $3 billion unless the Green School funding was included.

Nicola Willis: Did any Ministers other than Minister Hipkins raise questions or concerns with him about the conditions for this taxpayer funding to the green school; and, if so, what steps did he take to address those concerns?

Hon JAMES SHAW: I’m not aware of specific points that were raised. There was a very iterative process over a number of months of the whole IRG process, and many projects came and went during the course of that time.

The funding process may also get more scrutiny. Shaw has criticised the process – last week he said A number of ‘shovel ready’ funding decisions “made in haste” and “not high quality”.

Stuff: James Shaw fesses up, but put all future Covid projects at risk

James Shaw’s apology for the Green School fiasco was full, frank and a lot more than what you usually get from a minister that has made a mistake.

He owned it, and took personal responsibility. When asked, he also said that it was “an error of judgement on my part”, but “not a resignation level event”.

However, the most interesting part of his remarks revolved around the internal pressures he clearly felt when assessing Projects for the Government’s Covid shovel-ready fund. This goes back to earlier in the year when the Government released its $12 billion “New Zealand upgrade” package of infrastructure spending on rail, cycleways, but mostly roads. Although the Greens were privately irked about the direction of travel of the package, which was driven by Finance Minister Grant Robertson, they publicly celebrated the small wins that they had.

At the Green Party Annual General Meeting, held over Zoom in July, it is understood that the Green Party leadership faced a lot of questions about why there were more green projects in that New Zealand Upgrade package.

And so yesterday, Shaw effectively said yesterday that he felt the pressure after the New Zealand upgrade to ensure that the Greens influence the $3 billion worth of Covid infrastructure projects as much as they could.

He also said, perhaps ominously for Labour, that there were “many ironies and stories I may tell about this one day”.

Shaw’s comment yesterday revealed what has been apparent for some time: that the COvid fund, in common with NZ First’s baby the Provincial Growth Fund, has always has the potential to get politically favoured projects over the line. The very nature of the fund’s goal – to get money out the door and into projects as quickly as possible – lends itself to projects of dubious value being approved. There is a reason why Governments take time to approve dungeons to build infrastructure.

Perhaps that was why when Shaw was asked whether or not, given that this Green School was approved while he was keeping an eye on 40-50 other projects, other dodgy projects could get up James Shaw simply looked worn out and replied, “Look, I couldn’t, I couldn’t say”.

Media are having more to say about all this.

Newsroom: Shaw’s sorrow crystal clear as Greens face heat over private school

Between lion’s gate abundance ceremonies and crystal planting, the Green School in Taranaki has enough unconventional extracurricular activities to last a lifetime.

But should they be looking for an additional option, James Shaw offered up an impeccable lesson in ritual self-flagellation on Tuesday afternoon.

Speaking about his decision to grant $11.7 million in Covid-19 infrastructure funding to the private school for an expansion, the Greens co-leader all but begged for voters’ forgiveness over “an error of judgment for which I apologise”.

It was difficult to watch and presumably even more difficult to deliver, but clearly Shaw and his caucus felt the highly public display of contrition was necessary after days of bad publicity with the election looming ever closer.

On the one hand, it feels as if the issue has stayed in the news cycle longer than it probably merits due to the strange period we find ourselves in, with Parliament barely going through the motions as politicians wait for the election campaign to pick up full steam.

But with the Greens precariously close to the five percent threshold, even a minor drop in support could prove fatal.

Nor is the issue likely to disappear off the radar entirely; Government ministers have said it is too late to withdraw the funding from the school, although Shaw has mooted the idea of turning it into a repayable loan.

Winston Peters is also joining the political flogging: James Shaw may get some reprieve if Green School funding treated as ‘loan’

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters and Shaw have had increasingly fractious public exchanges in recent months, and this week was no different.

Peters says this is a “mistake of bad fiscals, bad understanding of the marketplace, and worse still of a very, very uncertain applicant”.

It was Shaw’s “number one priority” to get the funding through, says Peters, and this is a case “where the blame stops with the person who’s now saying he’s sorry that he did that”.

And he put the decision down to Shaw’s lack of political experience: “You cannot go on making mistakes in this business … we’ve stopped things that were a silly idea and promoted things that are good idea.”

Many will see the irony in Peters criticising someone else for funding pet projects, but the difference is that Peters and Shane Jones have had far more money at their disposal to dish out, and Peters doesn’t apologise for anything.

major concern of Treasury in opposing the funding was it did not yet have the full education approvals needed for a private school.

Advice obtained by RNZ from around July said without full private school registration, it would be “inappropriate” to give Green School government money, but even then it opposed the grant.

Green School has provisional registration, says the advice, but it would it be still be some time before it was a fully registered private school, as Treasury says the “Education Review Office (ERO) is planning to visit the school in 2021, so if they are successful in receiving full registration this is unlikely until mid-2021”.

Grant Robertson kicks Shaw while he’s down:

Finance Minister Grant Robertson told the House 1900 applications were initially received and Crown Infrastructure Partners shortlisted that down to just over 800.

“Ministers were then responsible for refining that down further to the around 150 projects that have been put in place … Minister Shaw is on record for his strong advocacy of the particular project in question here.”

Robertson says he does not see a backlash for Labour or New Zealand First as a result of the decision-making.

“I think everybody in the situation is clear that it was Minister Shaw’s strong advocacy that saw the Green School (succeed), and he himself has acknowledged that.”

And it continues.

The Green School embarrassment is likely to come up in Parliament again today.

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.

Questions on Covid testing in managed isolation

The source of the Auckland outbreak of Covid this month is still unknown (and as time goes on the chances of finding out where it came from diminishes), so questions continue to be asked about the effectiveness of New Zealand’s border controls.

It is known that the testing of people working at border jobs – airports and ports – and also at isolation and quarantine facilities has been inadequate and not up to the standard the Government (Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Minister of Health Chris Hipkins) claim to have demanded. How this came to happen is still to be determined or disclosed.

So this is one area where the Opposition has been questioning the Government.

Yesterday a response to a written question was promoted by National:

It perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise that the 3 day test isn’t compulsory. This and similar has been pointed out: “You can be required to stay a total of 28 days if you refuse to a Covid-19 test or are not considered a low risk by a health practitioner”.

Image

But that doesn’t address al the concerns raised by the Hipkins response. He said “The Ministry of Health does not hold the specific information requested…”

This may need clarification but it appears that the Ministry and the Minister don’t know how many people refuse the 3 day test. This raises further questions about the management of isolation facilities.

At a minimum I think the Ministry should know exactly how many people enter isolation or quarantine and how many people have the 3 day test (and also the 12 day test).

In particular they should know those who don’t have the test – they must know this to enforce their ‘up to 28 day’ requirement.

So either Hipkins is avoiding answering the question properly, or there is a serious problem still with the management of isolation facilities.

Dr Reti tried to address the issue in Question Time yesterday:

5. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by his statements and actions around coronavirus testing in isolation facilities?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Health): Yes, in their full context.

Dr Shane Reti: How does he reconcile his answer to written questions that day-three testing has not been compulsory in managed isolation, despite the national testing strategy requiring day-three testing, and is this another hole in the border?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No, there’s been no issue with the compliance with day-three testing, as I’ve said to the member many, many times.

Dr Shane Reti: Is day-three testing compulsory in managed isolation facilities?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No, it is not, under the order. But as I’ve said to the member many, many times, people are doing it.

Dr Shane Reti: How does he reconcile not testing everyone around day three, with Dr Bloomfield’s comments five days ago that “if you have 14 days, plus the day three and day 12, plus … good infection prevention and control, that seems to be the best way of ensuring the lowest risk of someone leaving managed isolation who is infectious.”?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Because those are the things we’re doing.

Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern: Can the Minister confirm that aside from there not having been compliance issues, if someone refuses testing, they have to stay in a managed isolation facility for longer?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes, and as I’ve indicated many, many times to the member opposite, people are doing their day-three and day-12 tests.

Dr Shane Reti: How, then, does he reconcile not testing everyone in managed isolation around day three, with Dr Bloomfield’s June comments that “Everyone in our managed isolation facilities will be tested around day three.”?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I would encourage the member not to stick to pre-scripted questions, and listen to the answers I’ve already given.

Hon Dr Megan Woods: Can the Minister confirm that since 17 June, no one has left a managed isolation or quarantine facility without returning a negative day-12 test, the test most important to the protection of New Zealanders?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes, I can confirm that. I’d also note that one of the reasons the day-12 test is so important is that we have had people who have tested (positive) on day three that have subsequently tested negative on day 12. This virus can have quite a long incubation period.

Dr Shane Reti: Are hotel isolation staff put at risk if day-three testing of arrivals in managed isolation is not compulsory?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No.

Dr Shane Reti: Have the Government’s border policies been informed in any way by modelling that formally assumed day-three testing was compulsory, when we now know it is not?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I’m not entirely sure what the thrust of the member’s question is. As I’ve said, day-three testing is happening.

Hon Dr Megan Woods: Can the Minister confirm that staff at managed isolation facilities are not put at risk, because within our managed isolation facilities, we behave as if everybody has COVID, and there are strict protocols in place to protect both returnees and staff, and that is why we’ve had 40,000 people through these facilities and one positive case in a staff member?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes, I can confirm that, and I can also say that I visited several of these facilities myself and saw firsthand the great lengths that the people working in them are going to to keep themselves and the people who are staying there safe.

Dr Shane Reti: Given that answer, was the maintenance man at the Rydges shown on CCTV to be wearing a mask?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: My understanding is that they haven’t yet been able to identify exact footage of the lift trip in question.

Dr Shane Reti: Does he agree that New Zealanders believe and have been reassured that testing of all arrivals into managed isolation occurs around day three?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I’ve just given those answers. People are being tested at day three and day 12. There is no issue with compliance.

Hipkins repeated:
“…as I’ve said to the member many, many times, people are doing it”.
“as I’ve indicated many, many times to the member opposite, people are doing their day-three and day-12 tests”
“As I’ve said, day-three testing is happening.”
” People are being tested at day three and day 12. There is no issue with compliance”.

Those are definitive answers. So why did Hipkins say in response to the written question that the Ministry of Health does not hold the specific information requested? That doesn’t make sense too me.

Also, the lack of information on lift data is concerning. It should have been an urgent matter trying to determine how the maintenance man at Rydges may have contracted Covid. It must be important to know if he wore a mask when in the lift, because if he did and still contracted Covid in the lift that suggests it was by surface contact. This must be important information.

The maintenance man first had symptoms two weeks ago, on 11 August, and returned a positive test on 16 August.

Media release 18 August: Results of COVID-19 positive cases under investigation returned

The second case is a man who works as a maintenance worker at the Rydges Hotel managed isolation facility in Auckland who does not have any routine contact with guests. His partial genome sequencing results indicate his case is not linked to the community cluster.
 
No other cases linked to this person have been identified to date.  

Further genome sequencing and matching is being completed today and fuller analysis is expected later. 

The person returned a positive result for COVID-19 on Sunday 16 August with symptom onset on 11 August. He was transferred to Jet Park Hotel quarantine facility on Monday 17 August. It has taken till this morning for genomic sequencing results to confirm the origin of the case. 

Genome sequencing shows a returnee from the USA with the same sequence as the maintenance worker was at the Rydges Hotel from 28 July to 31 July before they returned a Day 3 positive test and were immediately moved to the Jet Park quarantine facility on 31 July. 

At this stage there is no obvious person-to-person connection between the worker and the returnee from the USA but investigations continue. 

Initial reviews of CCTV footage and swipe card movements so far show no interaction between the two people including no entry to physical locations occupied by the returnee from the USA.

So CCTV footage was initially reviewed over a week ago. Yesterday Hipkins said “My understanding is that they haven’t yet been able to identify exact footage of the lift trip in question.”

I think Hipkins should know by now exactly what is known about any lift footage, whether there is any, and exactly what has been determined.

If he doesn’t know I think that is a serious failing. If he does know he is not being open about it, in fact he would have failed to disclose it in Parliament.

Also of note is that the person arrived from the US and was at Rydges Hotel from 28 to 31 July. The maintenance man has acknowledged the onset of symptoms on 11 August. That seems like a long incubation period for Covid, which obviously makes containment and tracking challenging.

Basic information like how someone could contract the virus from a lift should be gathered with urgency, and the Minister should be right on top of all of this. Unfortunately Hopkins doesn’t give me confidence he is dealing with his responsibilities adequately.


This exchange yesterday also points out “an administrative error” resulted in inaccurate information being given in a written question.

8. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Research, Science and Innovation: What are the latest waste-water testing results for coronavirus in Auckland?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Research, Science and Innovation): Waste-water testing is taking place as part of a research project led by Environmental Science and Research (ESR), with funding from the COVID innovation fund that I established in early April. Positive results for viral RNA have been received from four of the five collection points in Auckland. The latest results are the Jet Park Hotel, with strong, positive results on 18 August, which is to be expected, given it is our quarantine facility; the Southern Interceptor, where waste water from the Jet Park Hotel mixes with waste water from 100,000 households, a positive result on 18 August; the Central Interceptor, a weak positive result on 17 August; the Rosedale Interceptor, a weak positive result on 13 August. There have been no positive results from the Western Interceptor collection point. These results correspond with what we know about the location of cases across Auckland. These results tell us that there is COVID-19 in these areas but do not give us precise information about the number of people infected or the stage of infection. One-off testing was also carried out in Christchurch and Queenstown in early August, returning negative results. This is another useful tool that can help us in the fight against COVID-19, and I look forward to providing further updates as the research project progresses.

Dr Shane Reti: When was the first positive test in sewage outflow testing in Auckland?Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The Jet Park Hotel started weekly testing on 12 July. As you would expect, given this is the facility where we house people who are COVID-positive, that that would have started in early July. One of the reasons why ESR, with the research money they have, is concentrating the efforts around testing of the Jet Park Hotel, and the interceptor associated with the Jet Park Hotel, is because we have such low levels of COVID in New Zealand, getting the sensitivity of the test is proving a challenge. So the first test would have been in early July.

Dr Shane Reti: How does she reconcile that answer with written questions received last week saying that weekly testing at Jet Park had been negative?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: My understanding is that there has been a correction to the written question from the Minister of Health that was put through today, that the question did say that it had been daily, since the beginning of July, at Jet Park, returning negative results—that has been corrected to say “usually return positive results as expected”. This was put down to an administrative error.

That error also does not give me confidence in Ministry of Health information.

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.

Covid rumours packaged and spread

There has been a lot of talk about how Covid rumours and conspiracies have been perpetuated over the last couple of weeks, including by politicians (particularly Gerry Brownlee and Winston Peters).

Dylan Reeve tracked down who packaged rumours that seems to have led to a viral spread of racist bull. The aim was to understand how it happened rather than to out the Reddit poster and wreck his life (he seems to be suffering a lot as it is).

Post by David Farrier.

Webworm talks to the man who started the COVID-19 outbreak rumour in New Zealand

Today is a long newsletter, and it involves a conversation with the man who started a rumour / conspiracy theory that spun out of control over the weekend here in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

My colleague Dylan Reeve tracked him down, and called him. The man had been half expecting a call:

I have been in this fight-or-flight mode for the last 48 hours. I just realised how bad it was on Saturday, which is when I went in and tried to clean up as much as I could, but by then it’s got a life of its own.

It’s my hope that in talking with Patient Zero of a conspiracy theory, we can understand a little more how they spread, and the victims they leave in their wake.

An interesting interview with ‘James’ followed, which includes:

So we got into lockdown on Tuesday night, and then there was a bunch of chat on the 12th, everyone was all over the place and a couple of mates had a discussion.

There was some talk from a friend from Auckland Uni, and some other people had mentioned to me as well, related around somebody sneaking into a managed isolation. 

So it was basically – I made a poor decision to put that in writing on Reddit. 

I realised a couple of hours later and removed it as much as I could, and by that stage it had been used in screen shots.

But that was too late. It had been picked up, repackaged with some fairly racist overtones, and it went viral.

Most of what spreads on the Internet stays on the Internet, but this prompted a respnse from the Minister of Health and the Director-General of Health: Chris Hipkins and Ashley Bloomfield slam spreading of ‘vile’ rumours about latest Covid-19 cluster

Health Minister Chris Hipkins has urged New Zealanders to stop spreading unverified rumours, after one particular rumour “spread like wildfire” on social media.

Hipkins said the rumour contained a number of “vile slurs”.

“Not only was it harmful and dangerous, it was totally and utterly wrong,” Hipkins said.

“Please think twice before sharing unverified information”

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield also weighed in, saying that people in the Māori and Pacific communities had done more than their share for the community by coming forward to get tested at higher rates than other groups in New Zealand during the first outbreak, despite having lower rates of infection.

“There should be nothing in the description of this outbreak that suggests that there is anything about this community that is a problem,” Bloomfield said.

“They have been incredibly co-operative and incredibly supportive and we should all be thanking and supporting them.”

The particular rumour involved the claim that a woman in the current cluster contracted the virus by sneaking into a managed isolation facility, Hipkins said.

“It was fully investigated and that investigation concluded that it was completely false,” Hipkins said.

He said the rumour may have been orchestrated.

“There have always been and will always be rumours, but this one smacked of orchestration [and] of being a deliberate act of misinformation”.

Hipkins said his warning applied to everyone, including his Cabinet colleagues. This could be awkward for Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, who this week shared an unverified rumour about the latest cluster coming through a border breach.

“I think all ministers, all MPs, and all leaders in the community should lead by example and be cautious about the information that they choose to share,” Hipkins said.

Peters claimed that a ‘reliable journalist’ was his source.


Related to this from Newsroom: ‘Infodemic’ evolves as Covid-19 returns to NZ

Last Tuesday night, as Jacinda Ardern revealed that four people in Auckland had tested positive for Covid-19 and the city would be going into Level 3 lockdown, social media appeared to erupt with conspiracy theories.

These ranged from false claims about the Government’s response to outlandish theories about the origins or seriousness of the virus. They were spread on all levels, from concerned grandparents posting to their Facebook friends lists to Instagram influencers sharing to tens of thousands of followers.

Politicians got in on the game as well – independent MP Jami-Lee Ross and former guitarist Billy Te Kahika Jr. recorded a livestream heavy on conspiracy theory that garnered more than 100,000 views and critics accused National Party deputy leader Gerry Brownlee of dog-whistling to the same conspiracists during a press conference the next day. Brownlee later said he had got himself into a “bad spot” with his misjudged comments.

But a leading conspiracy theory researcher says the prevalence of misinformation about the pandemic online has not changed in the past week. The tone, however, may have. What threat might this misinformation pose? And what can – or should – New Zealand be doing about it?

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Is people leaving isolation a big deal?

Obviously if someone in isolation breaks the rules and gets out, and if they have the Covid-19 virus, it’s a fairly big deal. One person who got out this week and visited a supermarket put potentially many people at risk, they caused a supermarket to shut down and do extensive cleaning, and that resulted in many employees going into precautionary self isolation.

But is it too much to expect that with thousands of people in isolation in hotels (not prisons) that a few won’t choose to break the rules?

Perhaps we have to accept that a few escapes are inevitable, and as long as there are comprehensive systems in place to deal with it when it happens we should be reasonably comfortable with what is being done.

But this is an ongoing awkwardness for the Government.

When two women were let out of isolation without being tested – and tested positive after travelling from Auckland to Wellington – the army involvement in managing isolsation and quarantine facilities.  Megan Woods (name corrected) was also installed to cover for the poorly performing Minister of Health David Clark.

Things kept going wrong, people kept getting out.

Clark resigned and Chris Hipkins took over. He handles media interviews much better, and seems to bo on top of the details of the job much better, but people still got out.

The police were called in facilities 24/7, but people kept getting out.

Four people this week left isolation, despite a lot of publicity and public angst and anger.

Is this just something we can expect may keep happening?

The last person who got out, by cutting fence ties and going to buy some booze ended up in prison. Was this a fair warning to all others in isolation, or was it draconian, especially compared to previous consequences for absconders?

 

Ministers versus Bishop

Two Ministers outed the constituent work of Chris Biship, National MP for Hut South, in Parliament today.

From 5. Question No. 5—Health:

Hon Chris Hipkins: Were the two women who tested positive for COVID-19 this week released from quarantine following personal representations advocating their early release from quarantine by National MP Chris Bishop?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I am aware of that. Obviously, there have been representations made for compassionate leave from members of Parliament. I think people need to be very careful because these are sensitive matters, necessarily—[Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! Order! Sorry, I’m going to hear the rest of this answer in silence. It’s a very serious allegation that’s been made here, and I want to hear the answer.

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Yes, I am aware of that, and I just would ask members to be careful around these situations. On the one hand, people have been requiring or requesting that people be let go early out of these situations. On the other hand, we’ve seen the risks that that presents to New Zealanders and the team of 5 million and their efforts so far.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I’d like you to reflect on your commentary about the question from the Hon Chris Hipkins as being a “serious allegation”. It kind of injects the Speaker into the question time in a way that a value judgment of that question might not stand scrutiny. Mr Bishop’s advocacy for those people did not infer that an unsafe process should be followed, and the fact that you have, effectively, commented on the fact that it’s a “serious allegation” is probably unhelpful—it’s certainly unhelpful.

SPEAKER: Well, if—sorry, I should have said it’s a serious matter and not a serious allegation, and I’m not absolutely certain that the member’s point of order has diminished it. But I will reflect on that.

Stuff:  Claims in Parliament National MP lobbied for leave for sisters who have Covid-19

NZ Herald: Two women let out after National MP lobbied for release

Both headlines look misleading, it doesn’t appear to have been lobbying.

And the Herald headline may be even more misleading. There is no indication that the women were “let out” as a result of what Bishop did.

Bishop has responded:

Some responses (from neutral and left leaners):

I wonder what the Prime Minister thinks of this happening while she wasn’t in Parliament.

Daily Covid update plus Minister of Education

Chris Hipkins today with Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

5 new cases (2 confirmed and 3 probable), total now 1,445.
All new cases are linked to known cases.

One more death, a woman who was from St Martins Rest Home in Auckland. Deaths now total 13.

12 in hospital, 3 in ICU, none critical.

32 more recovered cases, total now 1,006

Chris Hipkins – first in Parliament which partialy restarts on 28 April, details will be decided and announced tomorrow but it is expected there will be reduced numbers in the House with proper social distancing. Cafes will not be open in Parliament.

It will deal with Question Time, Ministerial statements and urgent legislation.

On education – next week  most schools will be open for people who need that but children who can stay home should stay home, and it is expected that’s most children under level 3,

Quite a bit of detail – this will likely be posted online so I will repost that.

As at 9.00 am, 21 April 2020
Total Change in last 24 hours
Number of confirmed cases in New Zealand 1,107 2
Number of probable cases 338 3
Number of confirmed and probable cases 1,445 5
Number of cases currently in hospital 12 -2
Number of recovered cases 1,006 32
Number of deaths 13 1

 

Total cases of COVID-19 in NZ by age


The State of National Emergency to support the COVID-19 response will be extended a fourth time, for a further seven days.