Government wasn’t ready for home isolation

The first appearance before the Health Committee in almost two months by Chris Hipkins and Dr Ashley Bloomfield has revealed just how poorly prepared the Government was for Delta, says National’s Covid Response spokesperson Chris Bishop.

“It’s now clear that the Government assumed elimination would work in 2021 but had no backup plan in case it failed. New Zealand started 2021 in a good position, but the opportunities provided by New Zealanders’ hard work in 2020 have been squandered.

“The Minister accepts that Delta changed the game and that what worked in the past hasn’t in the new environment. But why did the Government not have a backup plan? It is now scrambling across almost every aspect of the Covid response, largely making things up as it goes along, week by week.

“This morning, Dr Bloomfield said the health system was ‘ready to a large degree’ for the move to treating people with Covid in the community. Yet his own Health Minister says ‘the system wasn't ready for the rapid escalation in the number of daily cases. Whereas the system was preparing for 100-120 cases a day, we're seeing 150-200 cases a day and it just did not expect to be responding to that volume of cases’.

“There are multiple distressing reports of people really struggling in home isolation, not getting the support they needed and waiting days for contact from public health officials after testing positive.

“Today we learned the Government is creating ‘metrics’ by which it will measure success for home isolation. Why wasn’t this done weeks ago?

“The position on pulse oximeters is totally unclear. Dr Bloomfield told the committee this morning that not everyone with Covid in home isolation gets one, but Dr Caroline McElnay says they do, as does Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson.

“Testing capacity is still an issue. At the start of the outbreak, Rako Science says it approached the Government to help with surge capacity testing by providing saliva testing in Auckland, but the Government declined. It is still unclear why that was. Thousands of test results are still being returned more than 24 hours later.

“The Minister says that there is now a role for rapid tests as we move away from elimination, but only 300,000 have been imported into New Zealand for use by large companies, and the Government can’t answer why they aren’t available in supermarkets right now as they are in Australia.

“The Government only established a Testing Advisory Group on new technologies in August. Other countries have been using rapid tests for all of 2021.

“Vaccine certificates are only being rolled out now, long after almost every other OECD country has had them. If we had vaccine certificates earlier in the year, Aucklanders could leave Auckland, businesses could have opened and hospitality could be trading.

“Almost every aspect of the Government’s Covid response right now is either slow, late or being made up on the fly – vaccine certificates, saliva testing, rapid testing, home isolation, contact tracing. New Zealand deserves better.”