Contact tracing failing New Zealanders

After more than a year of dealing with Covid-19 the Government is still failing its own contact tracing performance measures and is failing to be open and transparent about locations of interest, National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says.

Information supplied to National from the Health Minister show that in both the recent Northland case and the Papatoetoe outbreak, the Ministry of Health failed against two measures of contact tracing that were considered ‘critical’ by the Government.

The Government sets a target of having 80 per cent of contacts of an index case located and isolated within four days. But in some cases related to these two incidents, only 52 per cent of contacts were isolated within four days.

“Alongside reports from the current Papatoetoe outbreak that contacts were called but not visited, this shows the Government needs to do better with contact tracing,” Dr Reti says.

“Dr Ayesha Verrall’s audit into the Government’s contact tracing regime last year made it clear that our system was lacklustre, and the Government promised to turn this around.”

The Government needs to say whether its contact tracing indicators have ever been completely met in any of the many community outbreaks since the Americold community cases sent Auckland into lockdown last year, Dr Reti says.

“There is no excuse for not implementing Dr Ayesha Verrall’s recommendations in full given she’s sitting right there at the Cabinet table.”

Meanwhile, recently released documents show six locations of interest were undisclosed in the recent Northland outbreak – nearly 20 per cent of all the locations in that case.

“The Director General of Health has said non-disclosure is a rare event but nearly 20 per cent of all locations can’t possibly be considered rare,” Dr Reti says.

“It’s important that the public knows these locations because it impacts not only the people inside but potentially those outside, like kerbside rubbish collectors.

“Properly identifying locations of interest would likely lead to more people coming forward, rather than less.

Claiming that medical centres don’t need to be disclosed because they have an appointment book that shows who was there doesn’t really work as an excuse, Dr Reti says.

“As someone who has owned and managed many medical centres, I know it’s not possible to tell who is in the waiting room at any one time, who are accompanying patients, or who has entered just to use the bathroom or pass a message on.

“We need to understand the rules for non-disclosure and they need to be consistently applied and with an assurance that the risk of transmission is exceptionally low.”

You can find the answers to questions of the Health Minister here.