Royal Commission into Delta preparation required

The time has now come for a Royal Commission into the Government’s clear lack of preparation for Delta and the move to a suppression strategy, says Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins.

“News reports during the past week indicate the Government only began planning for a Delta outbreak in July, even though Delta first entered MIQ in early April and was raging around the world. When Delta hit, less than 20 per cent of our population was fully vaccinated.

“It is now clear the Government went ‘all in’ on the elimination strategy and assumed it would work to beat Delta. While other countries were vaccinating as quickly as possible and investing in contact tracing, rolling out saliva testing and utilising rapid antigen testing, New Zealand followed the same playbook that worked in 2020.

“New Zealand’s response did not adapt or evolve in 2021. There has been no backup plan, and New Zealand – particularly Auckland – is now facing the consequences.

“The Covid Response Fund was not spent on preparing the health system – such as investing in ICU capacity – but on art therapy and cameras on fishing boats.

“The biggest mistake has been the failure to vaccinate more quickly, allied to a poor rollout strategy that has seen Māori vaccination rates fall well behind.

“It beggars belief that as late as April – when Delta first entered MIQ – the Prime Minister was saying that we could afford to take our time with the rollout.

“The slowness to procure vaccines and then deliver them to New Zealanders has been a public policy disaster. There must be accountability.”

National suggests the following terms of reference for a fully independent inquiry:

  • The reasons for the slow vaccine rollout
  • The performance of the vaccine rollout itself, particularly for Māori
  • The preparedness of the health system for the outbreak, particularly ICU
  • The MIQ and quarantine system
  • Failure to adopt testing technologies like rapid antigen testing and saliva testing
  • Preparedness of the education system for the outbreak
  • Spending from the Covid Response Fund
  • The decision-making behind Alert Level changes and new step and traffic light systems

“The Government is infamous for its view that it is the one source of truth, but the lack of accountability and transparency over its actions of the last few months is astounding and cannot go unchecked.

“The Government’s continued refusal to release any of the recent public health advice is deeply concerning. There is simply no justification for this lack of scrutiny at a time when a Government is making such far-reaching decisions.

“The Prime Minister constantly says everything she does is based on the advice of the Director-General of Health, but he has made statements that strongly suggest that is not entirely true. As she refuses to release any of that advice, we have no way of knowing who is correct.

“The Government could have allowed the Epidemic Response Committee to be re-established, which would have provided a level of scrutiny, but refused. It could also release the public health advice in real time so that each announcement is accompanied by the most up-to-date public health advice.

“It is simply not good enough to say everything is based on public health advice but then refuse to release that same advice.

“A Royal Commission of Inquiry could start gathering evidence with a full inquiry to start next year, or when the immediate crisis is over.

“In the meantime, the Prime Minister could improve transparency and accountability by immediately releasing all current public health advice and modelling.”