'Disconnect appalling': Taylor critical of MIQ

Sir Ian Taylor: says there appears to be an incredible disconnect between Wellington officials...
Sir Ian Taylor: says there appears to be an incredible disconnect between Wellington officials who referred to overseas travel as a privilege and the needs of companies to conduct business at an international level. PHOTO: CHRISTINE O'CONNOR
Kiwis stuck overseas are gutted because they will still need an MIQ stay if they fly in to Auckland, where almost 300 Covid cases are already in home isolation.

Dunedin entrepreneur Sir Ian Taylor believes there's a wide gap between how the Government is handling managed isolation and quarantine and what the business community needs to operate in a global market.

He told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking this morning that  the managed isolation system was flawed and "not fit for purpose".

"The disconnect is appalling," he said.

Taylor said it was disappointing to hear Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins say that MIQ had done its job.

"We're well over a year-and-a-half down the track and still using the blunt tools. MIQ is absolutely flawed. It's simply not fit for purpose."

Taylor said many of the people stranded overseas were in dire straits without passports, money and visas. Not only were they not mentioned in the announcement but the proposed changes made no difference to their situation.

He said the damning aspect from yesterday's MIQ announcement was the complete absence of any thought of the thousands caught overseas, many of whom were now stateless through no fault of their own.

Taylor, who is due to fly out of the country for business on Monday, said there appeared to be an incredible disconnect between Wellington officials who referred to overseas travel as a privilege and the needs of companies to conduct business at an international level.

"This is an incredible disconnect. There is nothing privileged, especially about travelling during Covid."

Taylor knew of about 20 others who were overseas for business and unable to return.

"They had to go - they would much prefer not to - and still have no way home."

He said one of the major flaws of MIQ was the testing regime.

Taylor said New Zealand companies were ignored when it came to providing test solutions, with the Government selecting a Canadian option.

This meant there was just one PCR test that could take up to five days to return results.

When he flew out Monday on top of the official test he would be using a homegrown rapid test that would take 27 minutes to deliver a result.

The company had offered MIQ to pilot the machines in their facilities but had never heard back, he said.

The Government is also under pressure to tighten the Auckland boundary, following an unvaccinated person taking the virus from Auckland to Christchurch.

Christchurch remains in level 2 because public health officials are confident, for now, that the two new cases there can be contained without a lockdown.

But it's just the latest example of the virus leaking out of Auckland. It has already spread to Waikato, Palmerston North and Northland.

"I just find it unbelievable that we are allowing unvaccinated people out of Auckland to travel - for whatever reason," said Dr Apisalome Talemaitoga, chairman of the Pasifika GP network.

"People should be doubly vaccinated before they can do this."

Hipkins has said that a vaccination mandate was too hard, logistically and operationally, given the tens of thousands of vehicles crossing the Auckland boundary every day.

But yesterday he said requiring people flying out of Auckland to be fully vaccinated was being considered, and was "probably one of the easier" measures that could be brought in.

Te Pūnaha Matatini principal investigator Dion O'Neale also suggested people leaving Auckland should self-isolate until a negative test, but Hipkins said the country's supply chains need to run smoothly.

There were 89 community cases yesterday, including 83 in Auckland, four in Waikato and the two in Canterbury.

Plank said if the virus has spread in Canterbury, we can still see a move in the alert level for the region in the next few days.

"We're in a risky and fairly uncertain period at the moment," he said.

Southern DHB: Lots of planning 

Southern District Health Board medical officer of health Dr Michael Butchard says there has been a lot of planning across all areas of the DHB in the case of Covid-19 arriving in the region.

Butchard said he hoped that it would become "the norm" for people who become sick to go and get a Covid test.

"Covid will find its way through those groups with lower vaccination rates."

He urged people in those groups - namely Māori, Pasifika, young people and rural communities - to get vaccinated.

Plank said more preventative measures could be done around regions to stop the virus going from one region to the next.

Rapid testing on passengers due to get on flights or even inter-island ferries could reduce the risk of transmission hugely, for example.

"These tests give you a result in 15-20 minutes, so it's quite feasible to do that," he said.

"They won't catch every last case, but they would provide an additional safeguard that would just slow down the speed of which the virus can make its way around the country."

MIQ changes 

The Government has been facing calls to allow overseas arrivals in Auckland to self-isolate at home, given the risk of a fully vaccinated returnee who has tested negative compared to a Covid-positive case in home isolation.

But Hipkins announced a blanket seven-day MIQ stay for all returnees, which would come into effect from November 14; only one in 2000 returnees test positive after a week in MIQ.

Anyone flying in from overseas will spend seven days in MIQ and be tested three times, on day zero or one, day three, and a rapid antigen test on day six or seven.

They can then home-isolate and receive a PCR test on day nine, and end their isolation if that comes back negative.

Any non-New Zealand citizen will need to be fully vaccinated to fly in from November 1.

The changes will add up to 1500 MIQ rooms a month, but the increase in rooms for returnees is not expected to be substantial, and will depend on how bad the outbreak in Auckland becomes.

Quarantine-free travel will also be available from November 8 for people flying in from Samoa, Vanuatu, Tonga and Tokelau, as long as they have the right to reside permanently in New Zealand. Non-New Zealand citizens must be fully vaccinated.

MIQ stays for returnees will start to be phased out early next year, after the 90 per cent vaccination targets for each DHB have been met.

"The changes are at best a small step forward and at worst woeful," said Martin Newell of Grounded Kiwis, which represents thousands of Kiwis stuck overseas.

"They only add to the anguish of tens of thousands of Kiwis locked out of New Zealand. The Government has walked away from the scientific basis for MIQ, given that it keeps fully vaccinated travellers in hotels and Covid patients at home."

Proof of vaccination should be a ticket to home isolation, he said.

But the Government said it was too logistically complicated to set different rules for returnees depending on where they lived.

"Effectively trying to set up two international borders - one for those coming into Auckland and one for those coming into the rest of the country - would be a pretty challenging exercise," Hipkins said.

"And by the time you did it, we might not even need it."

He said the cases in Waikato continued to be "challenging", given that the virus was circulating in the kind of marginalised communities that saw the outbreak in Auckland creep along, and then spread through the city.

Public health experts have long warned that such communities - described by Auckland public health physician Nick Eichler as ones "that mainstream society forgot" - were more vulnerable to outbreaks.

Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said health teams on the ground in Waikato were trying to learn the lessons of what happened in Auckland.

"We are working with communities that traditionally we haven't engaged with as well as we should have. And I think that is one of the lessons we need to take away from the pandemic."


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