Evolving Boag story on Covid privacy leak

Michele Boag now says that she was sent daily emails by the Ministry of Health to her private email, and this is how she got the personal details of Covid cases.

After Hamish Walker admitted sending personal health details to media on Tuesday, Boag followed up with a statement claiming:

Today I am announcing that I am the person who passed on details of current Covid19 cases to Clutha Southland MP Hamish Walker, who then passed on that information to a number of media outlets.

The information was made available to me in my position as then Acting CEO of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust, although it was sent to my private email address.

This was a massive error of judgement on my part and I apologise to my colleagues at ARHT whom I have let down badly.

I take full responsibility for my actions and have resigned as Acting CEO of ARHT…

At midday yesterday Walker announced that he wouldn’t stand for re-election in Clutha-Southland (now Southland).

Meanwhile Boag didn’t respond to media requests for further information, but it was announced by National deputy leader Nikki Kaye that Boag was stepping down from Party roles. RNZ: Michelle Boag stands down from roles with National deputy leader Nikki Kaye

High-profile former National Party president Michelle Boag has resigned from her campaign and electorate roles for Auckland Central MP and National deputy leader Nikki Kaye.

Kaye said Walker had “displayed a number of very significant errors of judgement and I think his position is pretty difficult in the future.”

Kaye has known Boag for many years and said she was ” absolutely gutted” and “hugely disappointed” that she was behind the leak to the MP.

Then last night Covid-19 privacy breach info came from Health Ministry, Michelle Boag says

Former National Party president Michelle Boag says the Ministry of Health sent her the private details of people infected with Covid-19.

Boag told RNZ the Ministry of Health had sent daily emails to her private email, which included the sensitive details of the country’s Covid-19 cases.

Boag couldn’t explain why it was sent to her private email, but suspected it was because she was only temporarily in the role of chief executive.

The government has already confirmed emergency services were regularly sent the details of the country’s active cases, so they could take the proper precautions if responding to a call-out where someone with Covid-19 was present.

The Ministry of Health and the Health Minister both declined to comment when contacted by RNZ this evening.

This morning Ministry of Health silent on Michelle Boag’s Covid-19 patient detail source claims

The Ministry of Health is refusing to confirm if it supplied the former National Party President Michelle Boag with a daily list of people infected with Covid-19 and their private information.

“I was sent it [the private patient information] legitimately by the Ministry of Health,” Boag said.

She received a daily list of Covid-19 patients, and their personal details, as the acting chief executive of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust (ARHT), Boag said, but added it was sent to her personal email.

Boag said she would then forward the list to “people in the organisation who needed that to do their work”.

Boag couldn’t explain why it was sent to her personal email, but suspected it was because she was only temporarily in the role of chief executive.

Despite receiving sensitive emails daily, Boag said she only ever shared one with Mr Walker.

Boag refused to explain why she did when asked by RNZ.

“Well I’m not going to go into that, but that is the subject obviously of the investigation,” she said.

The Ministry of Health and government ministers declined to comment when contacted by RNZ last night.

But the minister in charge of managed isolation Megan Woods has already confirmed emergency services have been supplied the names of people infected with Covid-19 since the start of the government’s response.

“That is an operational procedure that is standard and that’s because if emergency services need to come into contact with someone who has tested Covid positive for whatever reason, be that an airlift or whatever, that they have that information and make sure their staff is protected,” Woods said.

The Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust made a statement yesterday:

In the wake of Michelle Boag’s revelation concerning the leak of Covid-19 patient information, Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust Chair Simon Tompkins says Ms Boag’s resignation as Acting CEO and Trustee has been accepted.

“The breach which has been admitted by Ms Boag was of an email that was sent to her personal account. As an administrative resource, Ms Boag has never had access to any clinical or patient data held by ARHT.

“ARHT is an integral part of the health system and we are entrusted with information about our patients which is properly protected by protocols which only enable access to those who need this data to care for the patient. We have reviewed these protocols and are confident that none of this patient information has been subject to any privacy breach.

“Nevertheless we take our responsibility for patient confidentiality very seriously and continuously seek to improve our protocols and procedures,” Tompkins says.

“We want to reassure the New Zealand public and, most importantly, our patients and their families that patient care remains our top priority. Any information we hold on patients is private with access on a restricted basis and has not been breached.”

This seems to conflict with what Boag has claimed.

Unless Boag or ARHT  or the Ministry of Health give furhter details we may have to wait until the outcome of the Mike Herron investigation to learn what actually happened.

RNZ: Inquiry still going ahead

The minister for state services, Chris Hipkins, said the ongoing state services inquiry would look at how many people received the sensitive information from the Ministry of Health and whether or not it was appropriate they did.

“We do want to get to the bottom of exactly what happened here and I don’t think the government should rely on what comments people make to the media to draw a line under it, we actually want a proper thorough investigation so that all of the facts can be put on the table so that everyone can be clear what happened,” Hipkins said.

Before Boag and Walker publicly confessed, the inquiry led by Mike Heron QC was expected report back with answers by the end of July.

But the past 48 hours is likely to have make his job a lot easier – and faster.

It is still likely to take a week or two.

Boag says she only passed one email on to Walker – but that doesn’t minimise her actions, that email happened to contain all the details of current Covid cases including personal details.

MoH privacy breach of Covid cases

The Ministry of Health is under scrutiny again over the leak of personal details of New Zealand’s 18 active Covid cases.

RNZ: Details of active Covid-19 cases leaked in privacy breach

RNZ has seen a document that includes the full names, addresses, age and the names of the hotel and one hospital the 18 have been quarantining in.

The State Services Commission has been called in to make sure a “thorough investigation” is held.

State Services Minister Chris Hipkins said the fact this personal information had been given out was totally unacceptable, and he has ordered an investigation.

“I have been advised by the Ministry of Health that at this stage it cannot be confirmed beyond doubt whether a deliberate leak was involved or if this was simply human error.

“If it was the former, it is unconscionable and absolutely beggars belief why anyone would feel it was an acceptable action to take, given the trauma it is likely to cause those whose information is involved. It would, quite frankly, be abhorrent, and potentially criminal.

“Either way”, he said, “it cannot happen again.

“The public has every right to expect their private information to be held securely.”

NZ Herald:  Covid 19 coronavirus patients’ details leaked: Investigation launched as agencies scramble.

Confidential patient details of all the active Covid-19 cases in New Zealand have been leaked, including their names and dates of birth.

The massive breach of privacy contains the details of 18 confirmed cases, ranging from a 30-year-old woman in Auckland to a 70-year-old man in Canterbury.

It includes the personal details of the man in his 30s receiving care in Auckland City Hospital.

The leaked spreadsheet, seen by the Weekend Herald, also shows which border facility the Covid-positive people were staying in when they tested positive and where they were moved for quarantine.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner said from the little information it had on the leak, it sounded “like a serious breach involving highly sensitive information”.

“Should individuals make complaints to us or we learn additional information, we may investigate further.”

Data systems and management of data has been a real problem for the MoH, and this adds to embarrassment over the inadequacies.

Curiously from Audrey Young at NZ Herald in Jacinda Ardern plagued with fresh problems in health:

If (Clark) had held out for another two days, she would have been forced to sack him anyway, over the incredible privacy breach of the Covid-19 patient details.

As he is new to the job Hipkins just has to deal with the breach, but it could be time consuming for him in his new role..

As Covid testing surges Ministry limits criteria

One of the biggest concerns over the handling of Covid had been the limited criteria that the Ministry of Health used to allow testing for the virus. This became a bigger issue over the last two weeks regarding testing of people before releasing them from isolation or quarantine.

Criteria were relaxed, and this week there has been a surge in testing numbers, with a record 9,174 tests done on Tuesday (23 June).

There have been reports of long queues at testing stations – this will have been made worse because the number of testing stations have been significantly reduced.

Apparently as a result the Ministry has tightened up on testing criteria again.

RNZ:  Ministry of Health reintroduces high risk criteria for Covid-19 testing

Covid-19 testing for every person with a cough or cold symptom has been dropped by the Ministry of Health.

Under new Ministry of Health testing guidelines, doctors and testing clinics, are urged to instead focus on those at highest risk.

For the past several weeks, anyone with even a sniffle had been told they can be tested for Covid-19.

But that will no longer be the case unless they fall into a high risk group or their doctor advises it.

The high risk group includes anyone who have recently:

  • Had contact with an infected person
  • Been overseas
  • Had direct contact with someone who had been overseas
  • Worked on an international aircraft of ship
  • Worked at an airport or isolation facility

Other people with a cold or flu symptom could still be tested but it will not be a requirement.

The move is expected to put an end to the huge demand for tests in some areas over the past week as cold and flu season hit.

Northland GP Geoff Cunningham was so busy he ran out of swabs.

He was relieved to see the change.

“It would be unsustainable if we were to continue swabbing every minor respiratory tract infection,” he said.

Leading public health doctor Nick Wilson, said the change was the right thing to do because there was no evidence the virus was transmitting in the community.

These are risky decisions basing tests on symptoms, especially because it is well known now that people with no symptoms can carry the virus.

This may be fine for now. But if the virus does get out into the community again it may not be picked up soon enough to contain it.

At least the seem to have comprehensive testing in place for people coming into the country and going into mandatory isolation.

Quarantine debacle escalates as Woodhouse allegations confirmed

Widespread anger was expressed after it was revealed that tow women who were granted a compassionate exemption from quarantine travelled from Auckland to Wellington on Saturday before testing positive for Covid-19, breaking a 24 day run of no new cases in New Zealand.

In a show of no confidence in the Ministry of Health handling of quarantines Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appointed a military leader to review and oversee the quarantining.

A number of people came claiming poor procedures in quarantine.

It turns out that testing of people arriving in the country from overseas were not required to be tested, it was optional.

But it gets worse. It appears that the public have been misled after an allegation made by National spokesperson on health Michael Woodhouse that the exempted women didn’t travel from Auckland to Wellington with no contact with anyone has been confirmed.  Apparently they got lost on the Auckland motorway and met up with friends.

Yesterday Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield did not front up to media, instead emailing a statement (there was no update posted on the Covid website).

From The Spinoff live updates:

On yesterday’s cases, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said in an emailed update, “As director general of health, I have overall system responsibility for the health operations of our self-isolation facilities and exemptions.

“In this instance, these individuals should have been tested prior to leaving the managed isolation facility.

“I am taking responsibility for ensuring this does not happen again.

“We have put in place a number of actions to provide the public and government assurance that anyone arriving into New Zealand does not pose any risk from Covid-19.”

“There is one family member isolating with them who is being monitored daily by the local public health unit. The Ministry of Health is managing wider contact tracing from the National Contact Tracing unit.

“We are treating anyone on the flight or in the facility at the same time as the cases as if they are close contacts who have potentially been exposed. We are getting them all tested and isolated until a negative result is received.

“At this point, there are 320 identified close contacts. The majority of these will have been contacted by the end of the day. All of these people will be encouraged to get a test.”

The ministry is confident no contact was made with anyone on the women’s journey between Auckland and Wellington, the update said. “The actions of these two individuals have been exemplary in terms of following health advice and the agreed plan on departure from the facility. I want to thank them for their cooperation and ask that their privacy  continues to be respected during this time.”

Ardern did front up to the media:

The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has addressed media on why yesterday’s two new cases, both New Zealand citizens, were allowed out of managed isolation before being tested.

She said it was “an unacceptable failure of the system”.

“From the beginning we have taken an extraordinarily cautious approach at the border … that is also why we required tests to be undertaken at those facilities – one at day three and one at day 12.

“That should have happened in the cases we learned about yesterday, it did not and there are no excuses. It should never have happened and it cannot be repeated.”

Blame did not lie with the two New Zealand citizens returning from the UK, she added. “It is totally unacceptable that procedures we were advised were in place were not. Our job now is to fix that.”

Ardern said she would leave it to director general of health Ashley Bloomfield to determine where responsibility landed and if anyone’s job would be threatened.

She said she was not considering sacking the health minister, David Clark. “The minister is in exactly the same position that I am, we both find what has happened here unacceptable, it is counter to what we were told was happening… He is part of fixing this issue, not part of the problem.”

Ardern was critical of the pressure she said was coming from “a wide range of quarters, not least from some of my colleagues on the other side of the house” to loosen the border. “We have always said that we needed to be cautious. I utterly stand by that.

“This is a growing pandemic, not a slowing one, and we should be extraordinarily careful, and I send that message to the opposition.”

But the Opposition responded with an allegation in Parliament.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Were the two individuals, confirmed with COVID yesterday, accompanied on their drive to Wellington, and, if not, how can he be 100 percent sure that they did not stop during the trip?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: They were not accompanied, and I am assured that they have been the kind of people, and have demonstrated, that they have followed the protocols in place with their self-isolation plan.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Has he seen reports that the two individuals went the wrong way on their journey to Wellington and came into close contact with the people who gave them directions?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: No, I have seen no evidence of that.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Was he aware that the good Samaritans who assisted them were rewarded with a kiss and a cuddle, and would he consider that to be a close contact?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I would be deeply concerned if that were the case. I have been assured that there was no contact on their journey to the place where they visited their relative in the Wellington region.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has he been advised of the details and facts behind the allegations in that last question?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I have not. I have certainly asked the question about whether there was any contact at all, and I have been assured that there was no contact along the way. So I have certainly not heard that report, and if the member has actually heard that and not passed it on, that would be very deeply concerning.

Last night from Stuff:  Ministry of Health confirms women with Covid got lost and stopped on drive from Auckland to Wellington

The Ministry of Health has confirmed two women diagnosed with Covid-19 after leaving a managed isolation facility in Auckland did not drive non-stop to Wellington.

Health officials had insisted they did, but Stuff revealed the pair got lost, stopped and met someone.

Politicians had questioned the validity of the claims but the Ministry of Health responded to Stuff late on Wednesday to say that the journey between Auckland and Wellington, taken by two New Zealanders with Covid-19 who returned to New Zealand to see their dying parent had been confirmed.

“Upon leaving the Novotel in a private vehicle provided by friends, the women got lost on the Auckland motorway system.

“On realising this they phoned the same friends who supplied the vehicle, who met and guided them to the correct motorway, so they could go in the right direction. As part of this the pair were in limited physical contact with the two friends for approximately five minutes.”

In addition, health authorities had been informed of instances where friends have made contactless deliveries of food or care packages to the women while they have been in self-isolation in recent days.

The packages were contactless deliveries and the friends who had delivered the packages had taken all appropriate precautions to maintain physical distance, the statement said.

“As such there is no risk to the community from these interactions.”

A second interview with the sisters was conducted by the local public health unit on Tuesday evening and there were subsequent interviews on Wednesday.

The statement says the information was communicated to the Ministry of Health on the afternoon of Wednesday 17 June.

When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked for a comment on the revelation, she did not address the issue or that officials had been misled.

A spokesperson for the prime minister reiterated to Stuff what she had said earlier – that there had been an unacceptable systemic failure with the case.

“The government is focused on cleaning it up as quickly as possible and fixing the problems that led to it.”

Woodhouse was criticised on social media, I saw the usual ‘attack the messenger’ nonsense on Twitter, and also at The Standard, but there was also anger expressed there, see from here.

It appears that Woodhouse has been vindicated.

Also:

Something is up with this case.

https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/419252/ministry-confirms-women-with-covid-19-did-stop-on-trip

The Novotel Ellerslie is literally on top of the Southern motorway jammed hard up against the Greenlane interchange. Apparently they got lost between the hotel and the motorway, a drive less than 500m…yeah, right.

Someone is still lying.

There may be more to come out on this.

The Ministry and the Government should have fronted up with the correct information. This has turned out to be a further embarrassment for the Ministry of Health and the Government.

Stuff: Furious PM sends in military to review and oversee border controls after two new cases.

Ardern said the bungle was completely unacceptable and the “rigour” of the military was needed to sort out what was going at the border.

She appointed assistant chief of defence Air Commodore Darryn Webb to review and oversee border management from here on out.

“We need the rigour, we need the confidence, and we need the discipline that the military can provide,” Ardern said.

He would be able to use the military to make sure the border was being properly handled.

“It is totally unacceptable that procedures we were advised were in place were not. Our job is to fix that.”

“There is no room for error.”

It appears to be a litany of errors and incompetence.

That looks like a major vote of no confidence in Ashley Bloomfield (or throwing under a bus), and in the Ministry of Health.

This isn’t quite hero to zero, but it is a major denting of public confidence in Government and Ministry handling of the pandemic. Minister of Health David Clark has had a poor public relationship, nothing more from him since he expressed ‘frustration’ and ‘disappointment’ over the quarantine debacle before the latest revelations.

I don’t trust the getting lost story. I think it’s more likely a deliberate meeting contrary to specified conditions of exemption.

So this is likely to require Ardern to front up and try to repair the damage.


NZ Herald: Woman who MP claims ‘kissed and cuddled’ Covid travellers attended Auckland gym class days later

An Auckland woman who an MP claims “cuddled and kissed” two Covid-19 infected British travellers attended a “hands-on” training at her local gym yesterday morning.

According to a Facebook post by Felicia Alkin, the owner and founder of Highland Park’s Lioness Gym for Women, the unnamed member was in contact with the two women on Saturday.

She did not know they were positive until yesterday afternoon, Alkin said.

Alkin says she has now cancelled her classes and appointments, and decided to self-isolate with her family, until the gym member – who underwent testing this morning – had tested negative.

Contact tracing will now be a headache for the Ministry.

And the flow on effects of quarantine incompetence and laxness by the women are significant.

New (stringent) 50 people rule for funerals under Covid Level 2

A new special rule for funerals has been announced, but requires funeral directors to get dispensation from the Ministry of Health and will be required to have stringent health measures in place.

Minister of health David Clark announced the change, which follows a lot of public and political protest about the previous 10 person limit.

Up to 50 to be allowed at funerals – if strict public health measures are in place

From tomorrow, funeral directors can obtain dispensation to allow up to 50 people to attend a funeral, as long as the Ministry of Health is satisfied that a range of public health measures can consistently be met, such as physical distancing, hand hygiene and no food and drink congregations afterwards.

The process will be that funeral directors register funerals with the Ministry of Health and declare that health requirements have been met.

Ministers have been meeting with church leaders, funeral directors and iwi leaders over the past 24 hours.

The Spinoff:  Changes to rules for funerals and tangi revealed; zero new cases

Clark seemed confused on the question of whether a funeral director would be required at a marae, passing the question on to Ashley Bloomfield, the director general of health.

“The protocol on the marae for the tangihanga will be with the iwi, and they will be required to abide by the guidelines, which includes the groups of 50 and the very clear public health measures in place … The feedback I got from iwi leaders when I joined their meeting by Zoom earlier today was that the marae committees are very conscious of the need to maintain the protocols and keep people safe as part of the tangihanga.”

That doesn’t answer the question of whether a funeral director has to be involved in a funeral on a marae.

MoH quarantine exemption reviews – 5 decisions reversed but still “it’s breaking my heart”

After the High Court overruled a Ministry of Health refusal to give an exemption to a man in Covid managed isolation (quarantine) to see his dying father the Ministry reviewed other applications that had been made, and upheld about half of them but reversed their decision for five people.

The review found that in all cases when applying the same process they had used the first time the new team came to the same conclusions as the original decisions – but the Court found that this process was flawed so I don’t know why they wasted time reviewing cases based on a flawed process.

Results of 32 case reviews when applying ‘the updated criteria’ (as determined by the Court):

  • 5 people had the original decision to decline their application was changed (they were able to leave managed isolation and have an agreed self-isolation plan)
  • 2 people had already finished managed isolation when reviews began (no indication if the original decisions were wrong)
  • 1 person had withdrawn their application (no indication why, perhaps their relative had died)
  • 14 people had their original decision upheld and will be required to complete their 14-day managed isolation
  • 10 people have been asked to provide further information (5 are still overseas and yet to travel to New Zealand).

Six people having their decisions reversed (1 via the Court and 5 after review) is a big deal for those people, and the delays wil have been stressful.

The Ministry says they continue to receive a large number of new applications for an exemption from managed isolation from people arriving in New Zealand, and these are being processed according to the new criteria. As they should be.

Ministry of Health: Statement on exemption reviews

The Ministry of Health has completed the review of 32 applications made for an exemption from managed isolation on compassionate grounds that had previously been declined.

We undertook this review following the High Court case last week that overturned one such decision to ensure that the appropriate process had been followed for other similar applications for exemption.

In parallel, the Ministry of Health updated the exemptions application process and criteria to ensure these are explicit and take into account the findings of the High Court judgement.

The applications were all reviewed by a separate team based in the National Crisis Management Centre. When applying the same process used by the Ministry of Health, this team reached the same conclusions as the original decisions.

The review, using the updated criteria, has yielded (results as detailed above).

We acknowledge that this will be a difficult time for people who are required to stay in managed isolation and we continue to provide support to them.

Protecting the border from COVID-19 remains a top priority as part of New Zealand’s overall elimination strategy and we will continue to look very carefully at any request for an exemption from managed isolation.

It’s a shame it took court action to get the exemption criteria changed but at least it is being dealt with better now.

The court determined that the original criteria was not properly allowing for exceptional circumstances. Counsel for the man who won the court case, Oliver Christiansen, stated:

There is a strong case that had the respondent applied the Health Act Order correctly, Mr Christiansen’s circumstances would be recognised as coming within one or both of the exemption categories: either compassionate grounds with a low risk of transmission, or exceptional circumstances.

It is difficult to comprehend what other situations would suffice to meet these categories if the present applicant’s circumstances do not.

The judge agreed:

A rigid policy that does not include exceptional circumstances, especially where the empowering law provides for those exceptions, is the antithesis of what was intended under the Order, objectively read.

In my judgment, this exceptional case demands an effective and swift response by the Court to achieve overall justice.

Requiring the respondent to permit Mr Christiansen to leave Managed Isolation prior to the end of his 14-day isolation period at the Central City facility for the purposes of visiting his terminally ill father.

The original criteria used by the Ministry must have ignored or insufficiently taken into account compassionate grounds or exception circumstances.

But it looks like the problems aren’t over for everyone – Kiwi in quarantine pleads with government to see his dying wife one last time:

A Christchurch man is pleading for government officials to exempt him from quarantine so that he can see his dying wife one last time.

Mining contractor Bernie Ryan returned from Australia on Sunday after his wife Christine Taylor’s condition worsened.

He is currently under managed isolation at a hotel in Auckland, and said despite showing no illness symptoms and a letter of support from his GP, the Ministry of Health has repeatedly refused his request for exemption.

Taylor has terminal lung cancer and has been given hours to live.

“When I departed [for Australia] to go to work, my wife was unwell but she was making progress,” Ryan said.

Taylor was diagnosed with cancer 18 months ago.

“But anyway, things turned for the worst and I was luckily able to get a flight from Brisbane to Auckland, knowing that I would have the two-week stand down before I could get back to Christchurch,” Ryan said.

Ryan first applied for an exemption on the day he arrived in Auckland.

He said he was willing to travel with Personal Protective Equipment and maintain physical distancing.

“I applied for an exemption because of my circumstances and it took two days to get a reply back, which I think is standard, [and] they refused me,” he said.

“And then I tried again straight away via the health department [Ministry of Health] representative in the hotel, he sent it off to his co-ordinator who had said if there were special circumstances to send it through to him, and it was obviously agreed I had special circumstances.”

Ryan said he waited another couple of days and received a phone call from the Ministry of Health informing him that it would be impossible for him to go to Christchurch.

He said the refusal was devastating.

“Well … I cried, and basically a friend suggested that maybe we can get in contact with the media and if not for me, for other people that may have to go through this scenario,” Ryan said.

He asked the government to show sympathy towards New Zealanders in similar situations.

“Well, I’m a proud Kiwi, we’re the best country in the world, just [show] some compassion … instead of these generic emails I’ve been getting, what about just some compassion? And not every case is the same is basically is what I’m saying,” Ryan said.

“It’s breaking my heart really.”

The Ministry of Health said Ryan would have received a letter explaining why his application has been declined, and its exemptions team will contact him to explain further.

It looks like he has gone to media as a last resort, going to court would take more time and cost money.

It sounds really tough for Mr Ryan. And it sounds like compassion does not figure much in the Ministry criteria, still.

Court rules man under Covid quarantine can visit dying father

A judicial review challenging the Health Act (Managed Air Arrivals) Order dated 9 April 2020  has been successful in the High Court. A man who had arrived in New Zealand and was required to go into quarantine for 14 days was prevented from visiting his dying father in palliative care at his home , but the court has ruled he could visit his father in private palliative care.

Judicial review of Director-General’s refusal to allow plaintiff to leave mandatory quarantine to visit father at end stage of life. Failure to consider compassionate grounds or exceptional circumstances justified interim relief to allow visit.

Oliver Christiansen challenges the Ministry’s refusal to allow him to cut short his mandatory 14-day isolation to see his dying father.

The context is New Zealand’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. Mr Christiansen arrived in New Zealand on 23 April 2020 on a flight from the United Kingdom. He was placed in ‘managed isolation’ in a city hotel as directed under the Health Act (Managed Air Arrivals) Order dated 9 April 2020 (the Order). The hotel at which he resided is apparently designated a low-risk isolation facility. He has no symptoms of COVID-19 and is monitored by health professionals at the facility every two days.

His father was diagnosed with brain cancer in January 2020. The initial prognosis was that his father would decline over a relatively lengthy period. However, by mid-April, the prognosis changed. Mr Christiansen learned that his father had only a few weeks to live. He decided to leave his family in London and return to New Zealand to sit out the quarantine, and then spend his father’s last days with him. Sadly, his father’s condition declined suddenly and dramatically. The medical evidence was that his father will survive for no more than a few days, perhaps to the end of the week-end.

Mr Christiansen applied to the Ministry of Health for an exemption to permit him to travel from the city hotel to the family home where his father is spending his last days.

Mr Christiansen’s evidence is that he asked for a test for COVID-19 but was refused because he has no symptoms.

Mr Christiansen challenges three Ministry of Health decisions declining him permission to leave quarantine before expiry of the 14 days.

It is apparent on the face of the decision records that the decision maker(s) applied the narrow exemption criteria in the Ministry of Health framework found on the covid19.govt.nz website even though Mr Christiansen’s application was based on other grounds referred to in the Order.

A key paragraph:

This is an exceptional situation. It is strongly arguable that the interim order places Mr Christiansen in the position he would have been in had the respondentaddressed his application as it should have been addressed. As Mr Foote and Mr Cameron put it their crisp written synopsis:

There is a strong case that had the respondent applied the Health Act Order correctly, Mr Christiansen’s circumstances would be recognised as coming within one or both of the exemption categories: either compassionate grounds with a low risk of transmission, or exceptional circumstances.

It is difficult to comprehend what other situations would suffice to meet these categories if the present applicant’s circumstances do not.

My emphasis.

Jumping to the judgment Summary:

In conclusion, I am satisfied that the merits strongly favour Mr Christiansen. The decisions to decline permission are on their face legally flawed on more than basis. Had the correct approach been followed, Mr Christiansen’s application may have successfully come within the compassionate grounds (with low risk of transmission) or exceptional circumstances categories.

A rigid policy that does not include exceptional circumstances, especially where the empowering law provides for those exceptions, is the antithesis of what was intended under the Order, objectively read.

I have also considered the question of the appropriate deference to the expertise of the decision makers in a time of unprecedented public crisis. No matter how necessary or demonstrably justified the COVID-19 response, decisions must have a clear and certain basis. They must be proportionate to the justified objective of protecting New Zealand bearing in mind the fundamental civil rights at issue –freedom of movement and of assembly in accordance with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

In this particular case, there is a very strong argument that the permission for Mr Christiansen to visit his dying father was not considered on the correct legal grounds and did not take account of relevant mandatory considerations. It had the hallmarks of automatic rejection based on circumscribed criteria rather than a proper exercise of discretion required by the Health Act (Managed Air Arrivals) Order. Indeed, the respondent responsibly acknowledges that on the face of the documentary record, one of the grounds of review can be made out.

In my judgment, this exceptional case demands an effective and swift response by the Court to achieve overall justice. I have in mind here particularly the imminence of Mr Christiansen’s father’s passing and the very material factor that visitation is only at a private home and not in a public space.

This order was made:

Requiring the respondent to permit Mr Christiansen to leave Managed Isolation prior to the end of his 14-day isolation period at the Central City facility for the purposes of visiting his terminally ill father.

Conditions were imposed to ensure compliance with safe contact and Mr Christiansen was requited to return to quarantine after his father died to complete the 14 days.

This looks like a good decision on compassionate if not legal grounds.

It’s a shame to had to be taken to court to get a sensible outcome, but at least this sets a precedent and should help others who may be in similar circumstances or other circumstances where compassion and safety can be properly addressed.

Hopefully those who make the decisions will now give more consideration to the law and to the reasonable needs of people.

Judgment here.

 

 

A robust critique of Ministry of Health modeling?

It is important and healthy to have people critiquing official Covid modelling, even if they have available much more information than earlier models were based on.  But critiques are open to criticism too.

David Farrar ar Kiwiblog has posted A robust critique and refers to the “key takeaway” from Ian Harrison at Tailrisk Economics critiques the modelling done by the Ministry of Health:

When we ran the Covidsim model we found credible paths that could reduce the pace of infections to sustainable levels. Deaths in the range of 50 – 500 over a year are more realistic numbers. 500 deaths is around average for the seasonal flu. We found that the higher OCRG numbers were mostly generated by their assumption that tracing and testing would be abandoned.

This OCRG assumption is almost incomprehensible, unless there was a deliberate attempt to blow up the numbers. Whether the Ministry was ‘in on it’, or simply didn’t understand what was being reported to them, we do not know. We have attempted to discuss the issue with the OCRG but have had no response.

Farrar comments “So the figure of potentially 14,000 dead was not at all robust.”

Perhaps that was too high, knowing what we know now. But how robust is “Deaths in the range of 50 – 500 over a year are more realistic numbers”?

New Zealand took drastic action and if we play safe in relaxing restrictions we may come out somewhere near the lower end of that range. But what if we had taken a more relaxed approach?

Sweden has about twice our population and has had 1,511 deaths in about a month. That equates to about 750 deaths in a month here, so we could easily have been outside Harrison’s 50-500 range in a year.

Switzerland has a little more population and in a month has had 1,368 deaths. At a similar rate New Zealand would have had about 800 deaths in about a month. If that rate continued for a year we would have close to 10,000 deaths.

New York has had 17,761 deaths so far, and at that rate we would have had several thousand deaths. New York is quite different to here, but it shows how quickly and deadly Covid-19 can be.

Whether we would ever have got to anywhere near 14,000 deaths in a year remains debatable, but we could easily have gone past 500 in a month let alone a year – and we are yet to find out how the virus and the death rate progresses.

The robustness of the MoH models should certainly be examined, but so should the robustness of any critiques.

There isn’t much coverage of Harrison’s criticque, but it gets some support here at Croaking Cassandra: Coronavirus economics and policy: from the mailbox and it comes up in comments at interest.co.nz here.

 

Dominant Ministry of Health, weak Minister – and weak Government

Is the Ministry of Health fiddling with our futures while the Minister of Health burns around a bike track?

The Ministry of Health is dominating the actions and public face of the Government in dealing with the Covid-19 coronoavirus – while the Minister of Health is in the news for going off on a bike ride which was contrary to the ‘guidance’ of his Prime Minister, who has been working from home in Dunedin, distant from all the decision making and most of the media.

Is the Minister of Health, David Clark, too weak, letting his Ministry run the show? If so that would also implicate a weak Prime Minister and Government.

There are growing calls for a clear indication from Government as to the plans for the near future in dealing with Covid, and in particular how and when more business activity and work is phased back in before the already substantial negative impact on the economy is too great.

Some of that impact is already irreversible such as the announcement on Thursday that Bauer Media were shutting down a number of iconic New Zealand magazines including the Listener, North & South, Metro and Woman’s Weekly.

Health of the people is justifiably a priority, so there is strong support for minimising the spread of and deaths from Covid. But we are now in the second week of a four week country-wide lockdown and have no clear idea of what the plan is from here apart from trying to stamp out the virus.

There are genuine and justified fears that too many businesses and jobs will also be stamped out in the process. The Government has had a huge task dealing with the virus, but they have failed to adequately inform about the future as far as the economy, business and jobs go,

The wellbeing of New Zealanders is not just dependent on minimising the impact of Covid, it also depends on minimising the economic impact.

Why are health concerns, and apparently the Ministry of health, so dominant?

Luke Malpass (Stuff) – Coronavirus: Health is important, but it cannot be the Government’s only aim

When does the cure become worse than the disease? That is the question that has to be being asked around the Government’s lockdown policy prescription for coronavirus.

New Zealand clearly can’t help what happens in other parts of the world – but we can control what happens here. And the overriding priority of the Government must be to get New Zealand out of lockdown as soon as possible.

Yet on Wednesday, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield admitted that there was no plan B, and that the rate of deaths forecast for New Zealand was unacceptable.

But here lies the rub: the Government cannot – and should not – prioritise health considerations, even including deaths, above all else. At the root of the Covid-19 fear across the world has been a public policy – and therefore, to put it bluntly, retail politics – problem.

…so the notion that the Government needs to indefinitely continue with the lockdown to “save lives” is a policy hocus pocus.

Indeed, it increasingly it looks like the Government has been captured by its public health officials. Take Covid testing, for example. The Government’s view on testing for Covid has done a full Road to Damascus over the past two months, from: we don’t need to test, to testing is a waste of time, to we are increasing testing capacity, to this week: test test test.

But it all seems reactive: where is the plan to test every person possible in New Zealand? Or sort out some fast and accurate testing regime at the border so it can reopen, in some way, as quickly as possible?

The lockdown is clearly a case of “no pain, no gain”, but for the enormous pain this is going to cause, the country had better get the gain. Because every day the lockdown goes on – especially if it continues for an ill-defined period after four weeks – will put more businesses against the wall, and more workers out of jobs. Some for a long time.

The Government now needs to get much better with the information flow and allow more data out in to the wild. It has been very carefully managing its messaging and it moved to act quickly. In a crisis, both good things. Both the prime minister and the minister of finance have excelled themselves.

Yet now that we are all at home, the scary thing is what happens to our jobs and communities when we get out, and what the plan is to get us out as soon as possible. We had better start hearing about that this coming week.

Michael Reddell is more blunt in Choices

Choices that matter are often hard…

As it is, the government has already failed us.  What other conclusion can we reach when much of the country is in lockdown, officials and ministers are deciding by the hour whose businesses will and won’t survive, with no apparent exit strategy?

Worse, they still aren’t levelling with the public.   We finally had the Ministry of Health release earlier this week various background modelling exercises done for them on contract by academic researchers –  including one dated 27 February (itself labelled a “revised preliminary report” so presumably the government had the guts of it earlier.

We estimate likely deaths to be between 12,600 and 33,600 people in our “plan for” scenario

Did the public see or hear any of this from the Prime Minister, the Minister of Health, or the Director-General at the time?  There was no hint of any of it –  let alone any greatly accelerated planning –  in thePM’s press conference a few days later.   And at the time the Ministry was still playing down not only the risk of asymptomatic transmission, but of any sort of community outbreak more generally.  If they were taking it all very seriously, they chose to treat us like children and keep us in the dark.

And in particular we’ve seen nothing that sets out any sort of cost-benefit framework that is influencing the government’s decisions…We just get the latest lurch.

A few weeks ago it became apparent that the government had adopted a mitigation approach – the PM was on a stage waving around a “flattening the curve” graphic.  But we’ve seen no serious analysis of what led them to that option.  Now a senior official –  not even the PM or an elected Minister –  tells the select committee that the government is set on an elimination approach.   But we’ve seen no serious analysis of the costs and benefits, risks and potential mitigants, of that either.

And then yesterday, the Director General of Health –  again not even the PM –  appears to double down, telling us that there is no Plan B, and that suppression will simply be maintained however long it takes.  But again, no papers, no analysis, no nothing, just rhetoric.  Not even a hint of what considerations our politicial masters took into account, what weight they put on them or of any fallbacks or contigency plans.

It isn’t like a real war – the enemy isn’t listening.  And we are supposed to be citizens, not children.  It is our country, economy, society,  and lives, not those of the politicians and senior officials?

It is as if the government is afraid of confronting and dealing with real hard choices –  and being honest on what they value, what they don’t –  and just prefers now to deal in simplistic rhetorical absolutes, when not much is very absolute at all.

We deserve a great deal better from our Prime Minister, her Cabinet, and the phalanxes of highly-paid officials and agencies who surround them. In the end, these are our choices –  our lives, societies, economies – and the government system is supposed to be our servants not our masters.

When, with all the resources at their command, they simply don’t do the analysis, and aren’t open with us –  radically so, given the gravity of the crisis – they betray our trust.  That is something governments can ill-afford in times like these.

While the Ministry of Health is dominating the decision making and the media, what is their Minister doing? Failing to heed the Prime Minister’s advice and going for a mountain bike ride.

It as the Minister of Finance who fronted on this yesterday: Health minister’s apology over non-essential drive is enough, minister Grant Robertson says

Health Minister David Clark failed to lead by example when heading out for a mountain bike ride during the lockdown, Finance Minister Grant Robertson says

“He understands that he needs to be leading by example, he didn’t do that in this case, and that’s why he has apologised,” he said.

But not leading may go much deeper than a paltry bike ride.

“I certainly think it’s important for the minister of health not to put himself in any risk … We don’t want the minister of health out mountain biking.”

Robertson said Clark could perform this role from his Dunedin home, and did not need to be in Wellington.

“He’s available to front anytime … He has a young family, and we all have to understand at this time we’re operating in a very different world. He’s involved in every single cabinet and cabinet committee meeting.

Clark wasn’t available to front while he was away riding his bike.

From Health Minister drives to local park to ride his mountain bike, amid coronavirus lockdown

Clark, in a statement responding to queries from Stuff, confirmed he went for a bike ride between video conference meetings on Thursday afternoon.

What was his Ministry doing between video conferences? Making the decisions in Clark’s absence?

Today’s Press editorial: Mountain bikes out of molehills

No-one could really believe a Government Minister should not be allowed an exercise break during the day. Clark duly apologised and Ardern made it clear he will follow the official guidance from now on.

Apart from alleged hypocrisy, the argument from critics, such as it is, is that Clark may endanger others if he has an accident and needs assistance.

Again, much of this seems petty and contrived.

Some of the criticisms have seemed petty and contrived – if looking at the bike ride in isolation. But it may be an indication of a much bigger problem.

There is much more substance to the criticism that at a time when New Zealand is facing its greatest health crisis in a century, the Government’s Minister of Health should have been in Wellington and making himself available to the media alongside Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

As many people as possible are being encouraged to work from home. I am. But huge decisions need to be made in dealing with Covid. The Ministry of Health seems to be the dominant decision maker and voice.

And the Minister of Health is distant from this. There are some things that can’t be done effectively by video conference alone. He looks like a weak Minister on the sidelines of a health and economic crisis.

While Prime Minister Ardern has been strong in some ways – she is an accomplished communicator in a crisis – this has mostly been a PR exercise, with most of the nuts and bolts communication coming from the Ministry of Health. Ardern and Grant Robertson front up from time to time but there seems to be a lack of overall leadership.

A weak Minister of Health may just be a symptom of a weak Government.

The lack of a clear transition out of lockdown, and the lack of a clear business and economic plan, is a glaring weakness, but that’s not David Clark’s responsibility.

Last night Ardern was interviewed by Hillary Barry on Seven Sharp. She laughed off Clark’s bike ride. The headline out of the interview?

It’s still too early to know if NZ’s lockdown will be extended, says Jacinda Ardern.

Why? Is she waiting for the Ministry of Health to tell  her? Who is leading who?

More in the next post.

COVID-19 modelling reports

From the Ministry of Health:

These modelling reports were commissioned by the Ministry to help us understand the health outcomes and impacts on New Zealand of COVID-19 and to inform the response strategy.

The reports have been completed by Wellington researchers from the University of Otago in collaboration with university colleagues from Germany. The models have been revised based on feedback from peer reviewers, the Ministry of Health’s Chief Science Advisor and public health officials.

Modelling will help inform Government decisions on when, how much, and for how-long, the country can ease the lockdown and other measures.

It’s critical to understand that each of the models presents a number of potential future scenarios; there are no “predictions”.

Each model has its own degree of uncertainty determined by the assumptions required for any modelling work, and those assumptions are based on the best information available from overseas evidence.

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