PM furious over poor communication over Covid testing in Auckland

On Friday incorrect official advice was circulated which encouraged people South or West Auckland to have a Covid test.

This wasn’t corrected until Saturday, and the Prime Minister Jacinda Arxdern was reported to be furious.

But a bunch of people on social media seem to have been furious that Ardern was ‘repeatedly questioned’ on it.

The Government’s Unite Against Covid promoted this via their daily newsletter and social media:

Say yes to the test

Widespread testing is a critical part of our COVID-19 elimination strategy. COVID-19 tests are free and should be easy to access for everyone. We have more than 1,100 testing sites nationwide, including at most GPs.

If you’re in South or West Auckland, or if you have a greater risk of poor health outcomes if you were to get COVID-19, even if you don’t have symptoms, please have a test.

If you develop symptoms consistent with COVID-19, wherever you are, please call Healthline (0800 358 5453) or your doctor immediately and have a test.

The Spinoff describes it as:

Some alarmingly poor health communication went out over the weekend, leading to a furious response from the PM. The all-of-government Unite for Covid-19 group basically wrongly everyone in South and West Auckland to get a test, even if they didn’t have symptoms, in a message that stayed online for a full day.

NZ Herald: Incorrect message results in people queuing up for testing

Incorrect messaging telling people in West and South Auckland to get tested even if they don’t have symptoms has resulted in people queuing up at testing stations today.

That mistake resulted in queues of cars snaking out from a Covid-19 testing site in Massey West Auckland.

But Ardern said it had not been reported to her that testing sites have been overloaded.

A witness at a testing station in Massey, said cars were around the corner stretching onto Triangle Rd soon after the station opened at 8am today.

Another witness told the Herald the testing station was a lot busier than it was yesterday and the majority of people were wearing face masks.

United Against Covid said the advice had been removed ‘to avoid confusion’:

That’s a poor response.

RNZ: PM ‘incredibly angry’ over wrong call for South and West Auckland testing:

In a social media post, it said people who live in those areas, or who are at greater risk of poor health outcomes, should get themselves tested.

But at today’s Covid-19 briefing, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this was an oversimplification.

“That is not the ask coming from health officials currently … from what I understand of that message that has gone out, the detail of the message is correct, some of the topline headings were oversimplified and it is wrong.

“We’re working very hard now to deal with what’s that created within the community and we’re working very hard to correct that.”

She said was “incredibly angry” that it wasn’t clear and the government had to be “very direct in our asks”.

“There’s been an attempt to keep a message simple and it’s just been done badly.”

Jason Walls (NZ Herald): New Zealanders have every right to be ‘incredibly angry’ at the Government over incorrect Covid messaging

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is quite rightly “incredibly angry” at her officials for pushing out incorrect Covid-19 testing information.

But New Zealanders have every right to be incredibly angry at the Government for letting that official message remain unchanged for almost an entire day.

The fact that the stuff-up occurred in the first instance beggars belief.

The information affected roughly 700,000 people in South and West Auckland.

Ardern was “incredibly angry” about this “wrong” information being published on official channels, and rightly so.

She said she was told about the incorrect messaging late this morning and made it clear it needed to be fixed.

But the information was still up at almost 1.30pm.

Officials getting something this major so wrong erodes public trust in the Government.

People need to be able to rely on the Government for key information like this.

Ardern does get off the hook when it comes to the blame for how the stuff-up occurred.

She does not approve every single bit of Government messaging that goes out, she has officials for that.

In fact, she clearly shifted the blame to those officials when pressed about the issue – saying no ministers had uttered that information.

But Ardern needs to take responsibility for what happened next.

The incorrect post went up at roughly 5pm last night; it was reported on by most major news sites and made it to some Sunday newspapers as well.

Despite this, no formal correction notice was issued until the next day, according to Ardern.

And by formal correction notice, Ardern meant the All of Government communications team – the people in charge of the post – had notified newsrooms across the country, telling them the information was wrong.

The Herald, which ran the story that the Government was advising all people in South and West Auckland, received no such notice.

This is despite reporters seeking comment on the post.

In fact, Health Minister Chris Hipkins was interview by MediaWorks radio this morning and made no mention of the fact this critical bit of information was wrong.

Ardern revealed the information was incorrect at her 1pm press conference this afternoon.

Even then, she waited to be asked about the post rather than issuing the correction in her opening statement – a statement watched by hundreds of thousands of people each day.

Ardern said she had made it clear to the officials involved that they needed to fix the error.

Despite this, the post remained on the Unite Against Covid-19 Instagram page until almost 1.30pm.

Ardern should be furious at officials for this botch up – but New Zealanders should be equally as angry at the Government for not fixing the issue faster.

Was Ardern furious that the public was ‘misinformed’ and testing facilities were put under strain? Or because Government handling of this was criticised, and by association she got some poor PR?

On social media quite a few people seemed to be furious with journalists for highlighting the mistake to the Prime Minister.

To some it seems that Ardern is beyond reproach no matter what stuff-ups are made.

Shane Reti on Covid testing in isolation

National MP and Opposition spokesperson on health Dr Shane Reti spoke in General Debate in Parliament yesterday on day three Covid testing of people in isolation.

Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I want to speak today about another hole in our border with day three testing, and I want to address it in several ways. First of all, it’s sort of a surprise. We’ve had the big surprises—the staff who weren’t being tested like we were told they were. This is a little unusual in that it’s only a small surprise to the Government, but unusually they will not fix it. I want to talk about it in four areas. First of all, I want to walk through the risks of not testing at day three. I then want to cover why day three testing’s important. My third point will be the process for counting those who have not had tests at day three, and, hopefully, my fourth and final point will be New Zealanders’ expectations and solutions.

So let’s start first of all with the irrefutable facts that we heard the Minister affirm today. They are: day three testing is not compulsory and the Government does not know how many have not been tested at day three. Those are just statements of fact, so let’s set that as the anchor and progress from there. I want to talk through the implications of not testing at day three and I want to create an imaginary unknown positive—not quite a carrier, but I’ll call it an unknown positive—who turns up at Auckland Airport, or any border actually, is positive but doesn’t know it; more specifically, they then do not have the day three test. What are the implications for this unknown positive of not having a day three test?

Well, first of all, let’s talk about all those who are close contacts. Their family members: clearly, they are all at risk from this unknown positive. We know there is cohort mixing, unfortunately, in isolation facilities. All those other cohorts are put at risk by this unknown positive. And if we look at a study that I’m hoping to come to shortly, a Nicholas Steyn and Shaun Hendy study, they say one of our biggest risks in our whole border policy configuration is the number of people that are interacted with—they say about five—in managed isolation. Imagine if one of them was the unknown positive.

The third thing I want to talk on is the Minister focusing on “Oh don’t worry. It’s all about day 12. It’s all about also having that two-week period.” Well and good maybe, but what about staff—if we just don’t focus on returnees for a while. Staff will be exposed to the unknown positive. Surely that can’t be a good thing. These are some of the risks.

I then want to talk to why day three testing is important. Without mandatory day three testing, the first time a returnee is tested in New Zealand is day 12—12 days after they’ve arrived in New Zealand! That’s a long period of time from our border. If we look at what happens when you do test positive at day three, it’s so important you’re immediately escalated to quarantine. That’s how important it is to have the day three test.

I think even more damning—and we knew it, and the Minister confirmed it here today—is that the majority of positive tests in managed isolation are the day three tests. We estimate between 30 to 40—something like that. Imagine if we didn’t pick them up. Imagine if we hadn’t picked up those 30 to 40 positive tests at day three and who they might have infected.

I’ve mentioned briefly the policy settings. The director-general referred to this paper [holds up a document] on—I think it was—Friday, when he said “Look, we know our policy settings are good, because it’s been tested by Nicholas Steyne and Shaun Hendy, and they’ve said, yep, it’s pretty good.” A small problem there. If you have a really close look at that, one of the input parameters to the modelling is day three testing is compulsory. That is part of our issue. If the whole policy setting has been grounded on day three being compulsory, and they’re quoting from this paper, we’ve been working on a flawed basis. That needs to be relooked at. What are the implications for making this modelling not compulsory?

The third point is the process for counting. How can we not count people who’ve not been tested? Let me go back through the mathematics. We know how many people have been in managed isolation. We know how many have been tested. Why is this not a simple subtraction? And indeed some of the media did exactly this last night and came up with a figure of 6,000 to 7,000 people. How can we not count those who have not been tested?

Fourthly, if we ask New Zealanders today, “What did they think is happening at the border?”, they think people are being tested twice. Some will know day three and day 12, but they think returnees are being tested twice, when in fact the reality is it is not compulsory to have the day three test. They think that we are having the day three test, because the director-general said so on 9 June, because the Minister of Health said so on 22 June, and the Prime Minister said in this House on 23 June “Testing of people entering New Zealand will commence in the week 8 June. These people will be tested at day three and day eight.”

There is a solution. There’s no surprise—no surprise at all—and the solution is not that hard: test at day three. We test at day 12. People understand that. I do not understand why we wouldn’t test at day three. I believe New Zealanders want a test at day three, and I commend that solution to the Minister.


More from Reti in Question Time: QT: more details on Covid isolation and border testing

QT: more details on Covid isolation and border testing

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

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

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

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

Hon Paul Goldsmith: I withdraw and apologise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


From Question 4 last Wednesday (19 August):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government deserves scrutiny over border testing failures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I agree with him on this.

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

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

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

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

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

Newsroom: Government feels the heat over border testing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Trump ignorance on Covid testing

Donald Trump has been again combined contradictory and ignorant claims about Covid testing with an attack on media.

The US has done more testing than any other country, but Israel, Russia, Singapore, UK, Denmark and a bunch of small countries have done more testing per head of population (US is 19th on the WorldInfo list).

Testing is a critical means of controlling Covid, but the raw number of tests doesn’t say much anyway. Here’s some percentages of other numbers

USA has:

  • 4.26% of the world population
  • 17.28% of Covid tests
  • 22.93% of Covid deaths
  • 26.45% of total cases
  • 28.48% of serious/critical cases
  • 37.63% of active cases

Those are numbers are only based on recorded statistics so won’t be 100%, but give an obvious indication that the US is struggling with Covid.

Testing matters, but the quality of testing, the timing of testing and the use of the results of the testing are more important than raw numbers.

Testing in the US showed that Covid was still widespread in the US when Trump and some states pushed for relaxing lockdowns. Covid got worse – deaths have been trending back upwards there through July, and this week were the highest since May.

Tests are important but it’s how you use the tests that matter.

Note that New Zealand is included and rates very well on these charts.

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New Zealand’s testing rate of 93,574 per million is much less than the US rate of 177,883 per million, but we have 4 deaths per million compared to the US rate of 475 so we don’t need to do as much testing.

Our testing peaked at over 10,000 per day in June – when we came out of lockdown and wanted to make sure Covid was under control – and is now peaking at 3,000 per day. We need to make sure we don’t have community transmission, but because fewer people have symptoms or concerns, fewer get tested.

Reuters: U.S. records over 25,000 coronavirus deaths in July

U.S. coronavirus deaths rose by over 25,000 in July and cases doubled in 19 states during the month, according to a Reuters tally, dealing a crushing blow to hopes of quickly reopening the economy.

The United States recorded 1.87 million new cases in July, bringing total infections to 4.5 million, for an increase of 69%. Deaths in July rose 20% to nearly 154,000 total.

The biggest increases in July were in Florida, with over 310,000 new cases, followed by California and Texas with about 260,000 each. All three states saw cases double in June.

Cases also more than doubled in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia, according to the tally.

The United States shattered single-day global records when it reported over 77,000 new cases on July 16. During July, 33 out of the 50 U.S. states had one-day record increases in cases and 19 set records for their rise in deaths in 24 hours, according to a Reuters tally.

We have virtually no restrictions because we have Covid under control here.

And Covid isn’t the only worrying statistic in the US.

The news that more states could be hard hit by the virus comes a day after the U.S. reported that gross domestic product collapsed at a 32.9% annualized rate in the second quarter, the nation’s worst economic performance since the Great Depression.

We may be able to keep Covid out of New Zealand, but it will be difficult to avoid the economic impact.

Odd tweets about testing doesn’t address the problems the US still face.

Vaccines are being fast tracked but at best it will be some time before they limit the Covid damage.

Reuters: U.S. makes deal for 100 million doses of coronavirus vaccine, deaths expected to rise

Two major drug companies will supply the U.S. government with 100 million doses of an experimental coronavirus vaccine, the Trump administration said on Friday, as the nation’s top health agency predicted that fatalities would rise in the coming weeks.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control on Friday forecast between 168,000 and 182,000 total fatalities by August 22, predicting that deaths will rise fastest in Alabama, Kentucky, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, Tennessee and Washington state.

The CDC also released a study that said COVID-19 had spread to nearly half the staff and campers at a sleep-away camp in Georgia over a week and a half ago.

The investigation demonstrated “that children of all ages are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and, contrary to early reports, might play an important role in transmission.”

Coronavirus deaths in the United States are rising at their fastest rate since early June. Roughly one American died about every minute from COVID-19 on Wednesday.

Wisconsin joined 21 other states that have seen a surge in new cases.

The COVID-19 outbreak “is not in good control” in Wisconsin said Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.

This isn’t fake news. Many US states are having very real problems with Covid.

While the president keeps fiddling with twitter his country burns.

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.

Covid-19 – Ireland acted sooner than UK, double the testing, less than half the deaths per 1m

A comparison between Ireland and England in dealing with the Covid-19 virus and their casualty rate seems to reinforce the importance of timing in locking down countries, and in testing rates.

Irish Central (March 17): Britain and Ireland’s differing approaches to Covid-19

The United Kingdom may be Ireland’s closest neighbor, but the two nations could hardly be further apart in how they are approaching COVID-19. 

They are virtually polar opposites and Britain’s approach could deeply impact the Republic of Ireland, especially since the countries share a significant border in Northern Ireland.

The UK has lagged behind Ireland (and indeed the rest of Europe) in implementing stringent measures to curb the spread of Coronavirus.

From a Twitter thread by historian and writer Elaine Doyle @laineydoyle (edited):

I don’t understand the British media. I really, really don’t. Basic things: Ireland and the UK started this pandemic with roughly the same number of ICU beds (6.5 per 100,000 for Ireland, 6.6 per 100,000 in the UK). If anything, the UK was slightly better off.

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(ICU beds is just one indicator of country preparedness. Germany and Austria have relatively low death sates compared to Italy, France and Belgium, but so do Portugal and Finland).

As of today, there have been 320 deaths from the coronavirus in Ireland, and 9,875 deaths in the UK.

So we adjust per capita – how many deaths per 100,000 people?

As of Saturday 11 April, there have been 6.5 deaths per 100,000 people in Ireland (now 6.8).

There have been 14.81 deaths per 100,000 people in the UK (now 15.6).

Guys, people have been dying at more than *twice the rate* in the UK.

That the UK’s closest neighbour, with almost the *exact* same starting line in terms of its health system, is having a wildly different outcome? Not saying Ireland’s a paragon of virtue! Loads to discuss & critique & make better!

But wait, it’s worse! Because if you compare the per capita death rate between Ireland and *England*, rather than the UK as a whole, England has almost *2.5* times the number of deaths as Ireland (14.81 deaths per 100,000 vs 6.5 deaths per 100,000).

So you have two English-speaking countries, with close cultural and historical associations, both with underfunded health systems, & comparable levels of ICU beds (almost half the EU average) going into the pandemic.

But England has more than 2.5 times the deaths? Why?

If you’re arguing over whether Boris & Co’s ‘herd immunity’ policy (& the resulting delay in lockdown) had any effect on death rates – here’s your angle, lads. You have a real-time A/B test happening *right in front of you*.

Because Ireland closed down earlier. Much earlier.

While Boris was telling the British people to wash their hands, our Taoiseach was closing the schools.

While Cheltenham was going ahead, and over 250,000 people were gathering in what would have been a massive super-spreader event, Ireland had *cancelled St Patrick’s Day*.

The four-day Cheltenham Festival is a meeting in the National Hunt racing calendar in the United Kingdom. It place annually in March at Cheltenham Racecourse in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire – Wikipedia

Daily Mail: Cheltenham Festival organisers say Boris Johnson’s trip to England-Wales Twickenham rugby match was one reason they didn’t cancel race meeting blamed for coronavirus spread  – since the festival took place hundreds of people have complained of getting symptoms of the deadly virus.

In Ireland, we watch a lot of British media and news, and let me tell you, it was like living in bizarro-world.

Because our Irish TV news was filled with very direct, serious pronouncements about what was coming. But when we switched to the British TV channels… *crickets*.

Particularly vivid for the weekend before Paddy’s Day. Rolling restrictions in Ireland, so no groups > 100, but pubs not yet closed. Video emerged of people singing in a pub in Temple Bar => public outcry, #shutthepubs trended, Health Minister comments, voluntary closure ensued.

 

I remember watching that video being posted on Twitter that Saturday night, and feeling sick to my stomach. How many people were being infected, at that very moment, singing along to the Stereophonics? It was such a huge crowd.

I assume there were people in Cardiff who felt the same way I did. But the difference was: I was supported by my government. You weren’t.

And that cost lives.

The Stereophonics gig was on the 14 March. Median 5-7 days to get sick, and let’s allow another 14 days to get seriously ill. The people infected at the Stereophonics gig were in hospital last week.

The people *they* infected will start dying next week.

Pandemics roll along exponential curves. The NYT (using @brittajewell’s calculations) showed it beautifully here:

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@brittajewell used US figures, & showed that if you started to stay home *this week* (March 13, at the time of publication), you could prevent 2400 infections. But if you started to home *next week* instead, you prevented 600 infections. (Those figures were based on US infection numbers at that point, with 30% growth rate per day. It’s not the UK.)

It’s weird, right? Exponential curves are really counter-intuitive. When they go up, they go up FAST. Timing matters, a lot. By staying home *this week* rather than *next week*, one person could prevent an extra 1800 infections. One person!

And as @jkottke pointed out, assuming a 1% death rate, that’s 18 lives saved. 18 lives saved, by the choices of one person to stay home for the week starting 13 March, rather than the following week. That Stereophonics gig? Was on 14 March.

Ireland cancelled Paddy’s Day on 9 March, initiating a series of rolling, controlled restrictions, from school closures & large group bans (12 March), to closure of non-essential businesses & social distancing, to full lockdown. It was precise, clearly communicated, controlled.

The UK closed their schools on 20 March, a full week after we closed ours. Full lockdown came to the UK on 23 March.

And while there was some muddied, confused advice in the UK between times (avoid non-essential travel from 16 March? don’t go to the pub, but then again, they’re still open, so maybe do?) – there was an abrupt about-turn, after the Imperial College report came out.

The comparisons aren’t neat between the two countries, because the processes (and nomenclature) were different. Technically, the UK went into lockdown *before* Ireland; but that’s not a fair comparison, as we were already operating our ‘Delay Phase’ from 12-27 March.

But I would argue the crucial difference lies in that two-week period: from 9 March, when we cancelled Paddy’s Day, to 23 March, when the UK govt finally (and abruptly) wheeled about, and went into lockdown.

And because the UK government delayed, distorted and distracted for those two weeks, the UK people ended up on the wrong part of an exponential curve, when lockdown started. And now, the UK has over twice the number of deaths per capita than Ireland.

But wait, it’s worse! HOW how HOW can it be worse.

Because: testing.

Because the UK figures only include deaths, in hospitals, from people who had already been tested positive for COVID-19. That sentence has a whole pile of clauses and commas, doesn’t it? Let’s break it down.

It means that a person could die *in a UK hospital* of the coronavirus; and all their doctors could agree that yes, they definitely died of coronavirus; and their *death cert* says that yes, they did, in fact, die of coronavirus –

… and they wouldn’t be included in UK figures.

Because they weren’t tested.

And you have to have a positive test, before death, to be counted in the UK deaths.

The UK isn’t testing nearly as much as it needs to.

And Ireland is testing a *lot* more. We have a drive-through testing centre in the sacred sporting grounds of Croke Park – think turning Wembley Station into a testing centre, and you get somewhere close.

Ireland is still building its testing capacity, but we’ve been explicitly following the South Korean model of test, test, test (and contact trace). And we’re using our time in lockdown to build our testing network.

The aim is to have 15,000 tests per day, or 105,000 tests per week – that is, testing 2% of the population a week. 15,000 tests is about 7 months of flu testing for Ireland – and we’re planning this, every day, for months and months.

We’re not there! We had to grab Germany for a dig-out, we fell so far behind! There’s loads of teething problems! Like I said at the top of the thread: I’m not saying that Ireland is a paragon of virtue here.

Of course no country has dealt with Covid-19 perfectly, it was a rapidly evolving with big decisions needing to be made quickly that had huge health, economic and social ramifications. Not easy for any country to get things right.

And to date, Ireland has performed 8.69 tests per 1,000 people. ourworldindata.org/covid-testing# The UK has performed 4 tests per 1,000 people.

Currently Worldometer shows Ireland with 10.73 and the UK with 5.2 (New Zealand 12.68).

So: to my UK friends, let’s lay it out there. You’re testing at half the rate that Ireland is, and your loved ones, your family, your friends are dying over twice as fast.

So timing and testing have been very important.

And that’s still a wild underestimate of how bad things are, because your low testing rates are artificially depressing your death figures; whereas Ireland’s high testing rate is (comparatively) inflating ours (or, more fairly, accurately recording them in our figures).

Failed by your government, and failed by your media.

Failed, by news reports that (correctly!) talk about how horrific the death toll is in NYC, while eliding the horrors of nearly 1000 people dying in a single day at home.

Failed, because it didn’t have to be like this.

Failed, because there are lessons and exchanges to be found here, but in those 2 weeks when so much could have been done, your media didn’t pay any heed to what was happening beside it.

Because your media didn’t report on the contrast between Boris’ choices and ours.

Failed, because your media STILL isn’t reporting on the contrasts in death rates between us, and why that might be the case.

It’s too late to get the timing of even cancellations and lockdowns right, but not too late to ramp up testing.

Failed, because in this long-standing, complicated, skewed relationship between us, we can see you clearly, and you seem to barely see us at all.

And it breaks my heart.

But there’s still time. Time to flatten your curve. Time to build testing. Time to develop a robust contact tracing system. Time to *use* your lockdown as it should be used, while we do the same. Time to be our partners in this, as we all must be, in a globalised pandemic.

The best time to plant an oak tree was 20 years ago; the second-best time is now.

The best time to stop this pandemic was last January. The second-best time is now.

And while we’re working this ground together, remember that over the fence, in your neighbouring allotment, we’re tackling the same tasks as you. It might be worth taking a peek over the fence sometime, to see what we can share.

The UK seems to be similar to how France was, not counting deaths in rest homes.

Business Insider: Hundreds of coronavirus deaths are taking place in UK care homes but not being included in the official death toll

BBC: Warning over daily death figures

Over the weekend, NHS England released new figures broken down by the actual date of death.

And these reveal that between 11 March and 1 April there were about 300 more deaths than previously thought during that period.

Separate figures, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also suggest the number of people dying with coronavirus is higher than the daily totals indicate.

The ONS examined registrations and found deaths in the community not included in the daily hospital deaths figures.

In the week to 27 March, for the 501 deaths recorded in hospitals the ONS also found 38 deaths linked to coronavirus in the community.

Also from BBC:

Larissa Nolan (Irish Mirror:  7 April): UK and Ireland’s responses to Covid-19 crisis are worlds apart

For far too long, the Brits’ approach to this crisis was to stick their fingers in the ears, close their eyes and go: “Lalalalalala”.

Like many others in Ireland, I watched on; worried for relations and friends in England. What were they at over there?

British political leaders have subsequently made some attempts to address it, but it’s too late now. The “denialism” – as a senior British scientist called it – is too strong.

Reports from the weekend show Britons still gathering, regardless. Attitudes are ingrained. Behaviours have been set. Outcomes are following accordingly.

Here in New Zealand we don’t have such a stark contrast in approaches with our larger neighbour, Australia, except for timing. Covid-19 seemed to become established in Australia a few days sooner than here, particularly in New South Wales, but we lockdown harder and about the same time as Australia.

Current deaths in New Zealand 4, in Australia 59.

 

Constructive Simon Bridges interview on NZ Q+A

Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges cam across surprisingly well in an interview on NZ Q+A this morning. He was supportive of many Government actions in dealing with Covid-19, and his criticisms were reasonable and constructive on quarantining people arriving in New Zealand and Covid testing.

He also pushed for more businesses to be able to open.

1 News: Bridges calls for more businesses to safely operate during lockdown

A “constructive conversation” is needed on whether contactless businesses should be able to run safely during lockdown, National leader Simon Bridges says.

“When you think about our economy, the longer we see the devastation, the job losses, the businesses going under, it’s heart attacks, it’s mental health issues, it’s fatalities in its own way,” Mr Bridges told TVNZ1’s Q+A with Jack Tame.

“Let’s try and deal with some of the randomness where one is an essential service and one isn’t, let’s be agile and potentially we can move to a more risk-based system.”

Mr Bridges said the country needed to be “quite agile about those questions now and certainly if lockdown goes longer”.

“The Government needs to do everything it can to have the most effective lockdown so we can get out of this as soon as we can.

“We’re devastating our economy, we’re curtailing freedoms, so the sooner we can get out the better.”

Mr Bridges also called for an increase to testing, pushing the daily tests into the “tens of thousands”.

As of yesterday, a total of 33,116 Covid-19 tests had been done, with the country at a capacity to do over 6000 tests per day.

“If you dealt with everyone who had symptoms, close contact, overseas, you would be testing more,” Mr Bridges said.

Full interview via https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/bridges-calls-more-businesses-safely-operate-during-lockdown

Why were we slow to increase Covid-19 testing?

A number of Governments around the world have been criticised for their lack of testing for the Covid-19 virus. This may have helped the virus spread undetected in communities.

Some countries like Italy and Spain had so many serious cases to deal with they didn’t have sufficient resources to test.

The US and UK were both slow to ramp up testing.

It is apparent in some places that the horse had bolted before comprehensive testing at the stable was started.

The spread of the virus and the actions taken by countries including here has been a rapidly changing situation, perhaps governments have struggled to keep up with demand, or perhaps governments are just too slow to act in emergencies like this (although the modern world has not experienced a virus like Covid-19).

New Zealand was also slow off the mark, limiting testing to people with Covid symptoms AND some link to international travel. Last week testing rates were increased, but only yesterday it was announced that the criteria for testing would be widened.  But even the highest risk group, travellers coming into the country, were not all tested (I suspect that there were too many too handle at the time).

This is despite medical experts and academics calling for far more testing.

The prime minister Jacinda Ardern has been criticised for possibly misleading the country over testing. Her first official release on Covid-19 was Saturday 14 March (just two and a half weeks go).  From Major steps taken to protect New Zealanders from COVID-19

  • Every person entering New Zealand from anywhere in the world will be required to self-isolate for 14 days, excluding the Pacific [i]. ‘
  • These restrictions will all be reviewed in 16 days’ time.
  • Existing travel ban retained for China and Iran
  • Cruise ships banned from coming to New Zealand, until at least 30 June 2020
  • Strict new health measures at the border for people departing to the Pacific
  • A range of measures to assist those in self-isolation to be announced next week
  • Government will work closely with the aviation sector to encourage airlines to remain active in New Zealand, limit impacts on the tourism sector and exporters
  • Directive on mass gatherings to be announced early next week

There was no mention of testing in her statement.

Tuesday 17 March she did mention testing in Economic package to fight COVID-19

“We will be investing in more health staff, more virus testing, more medicines, facemasks, extra intensive care capacity and equipment at hospitals, and more money for GPs. If we can manage the virus we can mitigate the damage to the economy.

The same day in Parliament from 2. Question No. 2—Prime Minister

Hon Simon Bridges: Why are people being denied coronavirus tests when they are displaying symptoms?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I reject the assertion they are. I want to read—

Hon Simon Bridges: Well, they are.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I would like to read from the case notes provided to doctors. Under the case definition, it says, “Note”—this is for clinicians—”that due to the ongoing changing global and domestic situation, clinical judgement should apply as to whether someone who doesn’t quite meet the current case definition should be tested or not.” Any person who a clinician thinks needs a test should get a test.

Hon Simon Bridges: So does she deny the email to me from a Wellingtonian and his partner who had all the symptoms and were denied the tests yesterday?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, as I’ve just said, that decision sits with doctors. I will read, again: “due to the ongoing changing [environment], clinical judgement should apply as to whether someone who doesn’t … meet the … case definition should be tested or not.” I cannot be clearer. Any person a doctor believes should be tested can and should be tested. We have the capacity to do up to 1,500 tests a day. My understanding is that we have hundreds of tests currently being processed for which we will have the results tomorrow.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why doesn’t she just guarantee that those who show the clear symptoms will get the testing, as Prime Minister of our country?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’ve just given you the exact advice that is for doctors. Doctors make those decisions, not politicians, but what they have been told is that anyone who they believe should be tested should be tested. I cannot be clearer than that. I cannot make those judgments, but they can, and they should.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why is she only suggesting ramping up tests now after the World Health Organization has called for countries to test, test, test?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member is utterly incorrect. We’ve had the capacity to test up to a thousand a day for a very long time.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is she concerned that a comparable country like Norway has tested 8,000 people and we’ve tested less than 600?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, the member seems to be upset about where our global standing currently is in terms of case profile. We have, currently, a small number of cases, that have been confirmed through testing. But I expect that we will have many hundreds more tests conducted. In fact, I understand we have hundreds currently being processed this very day.

Hon Simon Bridges: Isn’t the reason we only have a dozen confirmed cases and not dozens and dozens and dozens because under her Government, since the start of the year, we just haven’t done many tests?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That is an appalling, appalling statement to make. The implication that tests are being determined by politics is appalling. Doctors are making the call, and they are being told that if they believe they should test, they should. I cannot be clearer about the advice that has been provided by the Ministry of Health; it is in black in white—in fact, it is in bold.

Hon Dr David Clark: Is the Prime Minister aware that Norway currently has 1,200 confirmed cases of the virus, and is in Europe, which has been described as the epicentre of the outbreak?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes. In those cases, you would expect, therefore, that the contact tracing and symptoms would therefore lead to the other testing outcomes that they have. It seems extraordinary to me that the suggestion seems to be that there is disappointment about where we are. Hundreds of tests are being processed today. Very unfortunately, we will see—[Interruption] We will see more—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! Can I just ask members on both sides—this is a very serious issue, and petty calling back and forth from both sides ill behoves the House.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that the reason, say, Norway has many more confirmed cases is because they have done many, many thousands more tests, and that’s where we needed to be weeks ago.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No, I reject that, and I again confirm I have just been advised there are 500 tests currently being processed. That capacity has always existed, but we have allowed doctors to make that decision, not politicians.

Hon Simon Bridges: Will she apologise to New Zealanders who have been previously denied a test under her Government last month, the month before, and as little ago as yesterday?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No one who a doctor believes should be tested should have been denied a test.

Ardern said “there are 500 tests currently being processed”. The average tests over the past week is 1,777 daily as of yesterday when more testing was called for by Ardern.

That same day from Question No. 10—Health

Dr Shane Reti: Does New Zealand coronavirus testing align with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations to test all older people with symptoms who also have heart conditions; if not, why not?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The member will have heard from the Prime Minister earlier in today’s House session that all primary-care workers who are so qualified are being encouraged to test if they have any clinical suspicion.

Dr Shane Reti: What is the weakest point in the health system for coronavirus management, and how can we help?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: It’s misinformation, and members of the Opposition can help by making sure that they are pointing people toward the Ministry of Health website, where the most up-to-date and correct information is on hand. They can share that widely, and I would appreciate it. Thank you.

Two days after that a nurse I know who works in an age care hospital had flu-like symptoms and south a test but ws told she didn’t need one, and could return to work the following Saturday.

Also on 17 March – Jacinda Ardern urges clinicians to do more COVID-19 testing: ‘We have the capacity’

The Prime Minister is urging clinicians to conduct more testing for the coronavirus COVID-19 insisting New Zealand has the capacity to do 1500 tests per day.

“Our capacity is significant. We’re ramping up the ability to have up to 1500 tests per day,” Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday. “That test number you’ve been seeing per day happening in the community is growing day on day.”

It comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) pleaded for countries to ramp up testing of every suspected coronavirus COVID-19 case as it warns children are dying of the illness.

Several more media releases by Ardern didn’t mention testing, including the big announcement on Saturday 21 March – Nation steps up to COVID-19 Alert Level 2

Two days later on Monday 23 March from Prime Minister: COVID-19 Alert Level increased:

We will continue to vigorously contact trace every single case. Testing will continue at pace to help us understand the current number of cases in New Zealand and where they are based. If we flush out the cases we already have and see transmission slow, we will potentially be able to move areas out of Level 4 over time.

Ardern made several more media statements since then with no mention of testing.

Wednesday 25 March from Returning New Zealanders will be tested for Covid-19

New Zealand borders will be open for returning New Zealanders but all of them will be screened at their port of arrival, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said.

“All incoming passengers will be tested and anyone found systematic will be quarantined in a facility. All others will be asked to go into self-isolation. The Police will monitor them and anyone found violating the order will be fined and quarantined,” she said.

Yesterday (31 March) – Covid-19: More testing needed, Ardern says

The number of tests for coronavirus is set to ramp up, with health officials relaxing the testing criteria as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called for more testing to be done.

New Zealand’s testing regime has been under scrutiny for some time, with people complaining of being turned away despite medical recommendations they get tested.

The matter was at the fore during the inaugural meeting of the epidemic response committee earlier on Tuesday, where Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield indicated a change was coming.

Now, Ardern has confirmed the technical advisory group overseeing the case definition of Covid-19 had agreed to expand it to include people who had symptoms potentially indicative of the virus, but without a link to overseas travel or a close contact who had tested positive.

The new advice would be circulated to Healthline, GPs and community clinics, with the Prime Minister expressing a desire to see testing levels ramp up further.

“I want more tests, we’ve built the capacity for more tests, more tests will only allow us to get a better picture of the spread of Covid-19.”

However, she pushed back when asked why the Government had not made such a change earlier, saying New Zealand had already been conducting a high level of tests relative to other countries.

The rapidly spreading and dangerous Covid-19 pandemic is an unprecedented health emergency and has been very difficult for governments to deal with. One thing we should get is open and honest information. Questions remain about the slow lift in testing for the virus.

3,500 tests are now being done per day with plans to lift it to 5,000 a day but we may need more. This is being discussed now on RNZ:

Michael Baker, an epidemiologist from the University of Otago, tells Morning Report that although the shutdown has been very tough on people, it’s the right move from the government and they acted in a nick of time to get Covid-19 under control.

Prof Baker says that as we start to test more, we could see the number of cases rise dramatically.

He said more about testing, may have to wait for the audio.

Minister of Health David Clark is just being asked about this on RNZ,

The Minister of Health David Clark tells Morning Report the government asked the Ministry of Health to revisit their criteria for testing.

“We need to continue to ramp our testing, absolutely, and we are,” David Clark says.

He acknowledges there are valid questions that need answers about testing but that should be directed at clinicians who decide on who should be tested. He is waffling around the question.

He said current testing capacity is 3,700 per day.

Clark is already being questioned about the number of ventilators, he doesn’t sound assured or confident answering but says we have the capacity for about 500 ventilators with about another 200 ordered.

Public and private hospitals have about 750 ventilators between them.

It is a relatively low number per capita – with only 4.7 intensive care beds per 100,000 people compared to 35 per 100,000 in the United States and 29 in Germany.

Doctors have warned if Covid-19 pushes up demand so that 3000-4000 patients need ICU treatment at any one time, current capacity would be overwhelmed.

https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/413111/covid-19-nz-sources-more-ventilators-amid-rampant-global-demand

Symptoms of Covid-19 and what to do if you might have it

Symptoms of the Covid-19 coronavirus have some things in common with a cold or flu, but this shows differences (it has been posted in comments but it’s worth repeating):

The article it is from is interesting too – Siouxsie Wiles: How testing for Covid-19 works

How the process runs, why we’re not testing everyone who feels ill, and something you can do online immediately and easily to help the fight against the virus.

What you can do to help

While the Ministry of Health look at other strategies for early detection of Covid-19, there is one we can all help with right now. We need every household in New Zealand to sign up to the FluTracking project. Each week you’ll be sent an email asking if anyone in your house has had a fever or cough. This information is being used as an early warning system for Covid-19.

So, in summary. If all you know about testing for infectious diseases is stuff you’ve been reading on the internet, then stop tweeting your reckons and firing off your hot takes. Sign up to FluTracking. Wash your hands. Stay at home if you start to develop any symptoms. If you’re unsure what those symptoms are, we’ve got you covered.

Check Spinoff cartoonist Toby Morris’s handy guide above or  click here for a printable, high-res PDF version.

Ministry of Health latest report:

New Zealand has twenty confirmed cases of COVID-19. For a summary of the current status see our latest media release (18 March).

More information is now available on our current cases page.

With continued vigilance the chance of widespread community outbreak is expected to remain low.

New border measures are in place as of Monday 16 March. Most travellers arriving in New Zealand are now required to self isolate for 14 days – check our information for travellers arriving to New Zealand to find out more.

If you have been overseas within the last 14 days and develop a fever, cough or shortness of breath, phone Healthline’s dedicated COVID-19 number 0800 358 5453 or contact your GP, including phoning ahead of your visit.

For COVID-19 health advice and information, contact the Healthline team (for free) on 0800 358 5453 or +64 9 358 5453 for international SIMS.

Other information and advice: