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With the pandemic virus marching inexorably down the North Island and a couple of cases now emerging in Christchurch, nerves are understandably jangling.
That frustration was borne out by the tortuous path the Covid-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill (No2) 2021 took to become law on Thursday afternoon.
The House sat for extended hours this week — as it has agreed to do for most weeks heading towards the summer recess — to try to catch up on business delayed by the August Alert Level 4 shutdown.
To be fair, both sides had a reasonable point to make.
Among other things, the (No2) Act amends the (No1) Act, which technically was repealed in May 2021 by adding a sunset provision to allow its provisions to carry over until May 13, 2023, if required.
Phew, narrow escape there.
This point was to be revisited, at some length, the following day at the health select committee, chaired by Dr Craig and of which Ms Simmonds is a member.
Among its guests were Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, and incoming University of Otago vice-chancellor Prof David Murdoch, who is also chairman of the ministry’s Covid-19 testing technical advisory group.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given Covid-19 testing is set to loom large in our lives, much of the questioning concerned the merits of the standard New Zealand ‘‘stick up the nose’’
test and ‘‘rapid antigen’’ or saliva testing.
As Prof Murdoch pointed out — several times — while saliva testing is certainly much less intrusive, it is also less effective.
Both National and Act New Zealand would like to see more rapid antigen testing, and for test kits to be available for sale in pharmacies and supermarkets.
However, the Government questions the wisdom of doing that, for equity reasons (it would like all testing to be universally free) and concerns whether widespread private testing would provide public health officials with the needed data to fight Covid-19.
Unsurprisingly, such divisions led to an acerbic committee stage on Thursday morning — which, thanks to the technicalities of parliamentary timekeeping, was officially still Wednesday.
Things got even more fractious when it appeared the acting Speaker had inadvertently allowed through a National amendment which under normal circumstances would not have stood a snowball’s chance of passing, before the mistake was spotted and fixed.
And fixed it remained, despite a lengthy and ultimately vain appeal by National Dunedin list MP and shadow leader of the House Michael Woodhouse before Question Time to turn back time.
And after all that there was still the third reading to go through and go through the Act did, despite various opposition MPs getting very angry indeed.
To be fair, they had a point ... Covid-19 is horrible, it has killed fivemillion worldwide and it is coming, in utter disrespect of how ever many response Acts and orders the Government might bring to bear against it.
At least the South has one thing in its favour ... with 92.3% of eligible people having had one dose of vaccine our population is more protected than most.
But this promises to be a fraught few weeks for the Government, which ended the parliamentary week trying to pass a Bill to authorise pill-checking at festivals such as Rhythm and Alps, which no-one can say hand on heart will actually be able to go ahead this summer.
Neologism of the week
Full marks to Northcote Labour MP Shanan Halbert for this one: ‘‘Sadly, can I open this week by saying there is nothing worse in this House than being ‘Invercargill-splained’ by the member Penny Simmonds.’’
The candidates selected by MPs to represent them in the Youth Parliament are almost always impressive young people, but Taieri Labour MP Ingrid Leary’s choice comes with a pedigree.
King’s High School student Cam Fraser is not only an academic achiever, he is also the grandson of local Labour royalty Dame Dorothy and Bill Fraser.
Another brick in the wall
A few weeks back, Southern Say shared a blank Official Information Act response received by Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean.
She’s gone a step or three further since then ... pictured above is a swag of them, making up what she calls ‘‘The Wall of Openness and Transparency.’’