Preventable MIQ failures yet again

Photo: RNZ
Photo: RNZ
The people of New Zealand, businesses under dire strain and families desperate to reunite across the Tasman have every reason to feel angry and upset.

We have been let down again.

Surprisingly, however, the public and much of the media seem relatively blase. It is as if we think we will again get away with the mistakes, the slackness, the false assurances. After all, we have mostly in the past.

MIQ failures have lost their news novelty. Nonetheless, the costs of being caught out would be monumental for people, many businesses and the transtasman bubble.

On Monday, we learned the authorities, and therefore the Government responsible for them, have again failed to deliver as they should have.

It is all very well for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to talk the big game. On Monday night she was proclaiming about the very high bar for unvaccinated MIQ workers.

But we yet again have a Government, full of high-sounding words, that struggles to perform. All border workers should have been vaccinated with the first dose or removed from the front line before now.

We again have a director-general of health who reassures us all is well and under control. But we again find some of those reassurances are false.

We believed all MIQ staff were being tested at least every fortnight. But one infected worker had not been tested since at least mid-March.

Oh, he is from a private company and that business is responsible. Really? Surely, officials and the Government should have been making sure the testing was actually taking place.

We have seen this before. The nation had been told clearly returnees were being tested on day three and 12. That is until a journalist last June revealed the testing often was not happening.

Apparently, there is now going to be a register to keep track of MIQ worker tests. How typical. Issues are fixed once horses have bolted.

Again, it takes failure before an effective system is put in place. What were the administrators and policy makers thinking and doing? What questions were being asked by their bosses and their political overlords?

The lack of knowledge about which and how many MIQ workers were vaccinated is another shocker. Three weeks ago, Covid response minister Chris Hipkins told Parliament 91% of border workers had received their first dose.

On Monday afternoon, Ms Ardern gave the current figure for MIQ workers at 86%.

MIQ has always been recognised as the primary gateway for the virus. The priority has to be there. Excuses at Monday’s media briefing from director-general Ashley Bloomfield about the large numbers of border workers, private businesses being involved, personal privacy and the complexity of moving denominators do not wash.

Basically, until the heat came on and until the failures, no-one knew how many border workers had been vaccinated.

The authorities had had months to sort out systems for keeping track of vaccinations.

The vaccines arrived on February 20 and began to be administered on February 25. Ms Ardern indicated the border workers would have their first jab within three weeks.

There also has been plenty of opportunity to get around the MIQ facility workers themselves, and time to have the required conversations with the small minority who might decline vaccinations.

Workers should not be given until the end of the month to be vaccinated, just as construction workers must wear hard hats and hi-vis on construction sites.

There was no alternative before the vaccines arrived. Vaccination now is a fundamental measure minimising health and safety risk, especially because of more contagious Covid-19 variants.

After the stinging criticisms from the Simpson-Roche and Kitteridge reports (both kept from the public for many months), we must have doubts about both the wider vaccine roll-out and about the extent of Government obfuscation.



I'm not sure how you can talk about government failings related to covid without addressing the elephant in the room. It's a big elephant.
New Zealand doesn't have covid in the community. We've been lauded internationally for our response and our economy has held up better than almost all others.
The transparency around our MIQ facilities also impresses international commentators. Of thousands, one worker lied about testing, and it's national news. This author can't see the wood for the trees.

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