Two top officials were grilled at select committee today over New Zealand's response to tackling Covid-19.
Brook Barrington, chief executive of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and John Ombler, controller of the all-of-government Covid-19 response, faced at times testy questioning from National committee members Melissa Lee and Erica Stanford.
Lee questioned the competence of officials and suggested the country had been lucky not to have had more cases - given repeated media reports in recent months of people not complying with the isolation requirements, testing not being done and isolated residents mixing with other hotel guests.
"We have been hearing these stories for so long," Stanford said. "There are clearly some serious problems going on. I guess I want to know that they are all being addressed because it doesn't seem like they are."
Ombler told the committee there had been constant action to improve isolation management since it began.
More than 14,000 people had been through the regime and about 3000 were in the system at the moment.
But he said hotels had never been designed to manage isolation and it should not be a surprise that there had been problems for officials and hotel staff.
"It has been a major challenge," he said.
"It has been a learn-as-we-go exercise. There was no manual for this. We've not done it before."
Barrington told the committee there will be a formal review of the Covid-19 response, as there is after any national response is declared to incidents or emergencies.
But, responding to questions from Stanford, he said that won't happen before the response is stood down and that is unlikely before a vaccine is available, or other measures have been developed to control the virus.
That could still be 18 or more months away, he said.
Committee chair Jian Yang noted the high ratings New Zealand had received internationally for its response but challenged Barrington on whether earlier and tighter border controls would have prevented the more extreme lockdown the government adopted and the deeper economic harm that had resulted.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development is projecting an 8.9 per cent GDP impact for NZ from the virus – the worst for any OECD country outside Europe and the ninth-worst overall.
"When counting the cost for us of this response, we are actually above the average," Yang said, citing the OECD's projected average impact of 7.5 per cent across member states.
Barrington said nobody knows what the economic impact has been and won't have a firmer idea for another three months.
Some recent indicators suggest the impact may be less than originally expected, given the quicker than expected lifting of controls, he said.
"I wouldn't be drawing any conclusions at the moment, absolute or relative, about our economic performance. I think there's time to pass before we can draw those conclusions."
Barrington said NZ began its national response before the World Health Organisation had declared a pandemic and started imposing travel bans when the WHO was discouraging them.
"The narrative suggests we were in front of where international opinion and international advice was at the time."
Barrington said he had been involved from the start and had been impressed by the quality of the advice provided, and the quality of the decision-making by government.
"None of this has happened by luck."