Prime Minister - I was somewhat surprised to hear that some inside government, including Minister Grant Robertson on Mood of the Boardroom a week or so ago, were expressing the view that the trial I have been given permission to run to fly to LA and back is pretty much the same as the 150 trial that the government announced a couple of weeks after I started writing to you via the NZ Herald.
If that is true, then I think we should compare notes because I am happy to remain in New Zealand and get back to my day job - which is focused on making sure that we continue protecting the jobs of all our team with innovative ways to live and work in this new Covid environment.
That's getting tougher as evidenced by a Zoom call I had with a client last week. He had just flown from Ireland to Saudi for two days of meetings. He flew into Riyadh, scanned his approved vaccination app, passed his rapid antigen test, and headed into his hotel. He conducted his two days of meetings and, when I spoke to him the day before returning to Ireland, he was just back from dinner with his clients and was awaiting an official test, ordered through the hotel room service, to confirm he was safe to fly back to Ireland the next day - where he would go straight home, before returning to work the following morning.
That's how I imagined things would work in New Zealand once we could prove we were fully vaccinated and Covid negative. That is the reason all of our staff are vaccinated, and have been for some time. A 100 per cent target for vaccination has been met by everyone in our team that needs to travel (for work) but we have yet to see how it has made any difference to the way we operate internationally. We still can't get home without going into a lottery.
That's where The Bench can help. In the week following the approval to run this trial, Auckland Unlimited invited me to present to a Cross-Sector Border Steering Group which they had formed in August last year to help address serious issues being raised by businesses arising around MIQ and border access.
Within two days of the first meeting, a group of businesses from the Steering Group had built a structure around me that means all I have to do is make one phone call and tell them when I plan to leave and when I plan to return. The plan is built around the premise that I might arrive back with Covid I picked up on the way home. We are calling it Managed Self Isolation. It's designed for a worst-case scenario and will not require any funds from the government.
Here's how it works.
Within 24 hours of my call, I will receive a schedule with the following information:
1. Booking confirmation for an Orbis Immunity test at Dr Api Talemaitoga's clinic in Māngere on the day I am due to fly out. The test measures the level of immunity I have gained from vaccination, showing how effective it is in my case.
2. Confirmation of two independent, kiwi developed, PCR Covid tests I will take on the day before my departure to LA. One is the FDA approved Rako Science Covid saliva test, the other is the MicroGEM PCR saliva-based test that delivers a result in 25 minutes. This system is awaiting FDA approval.
3. Delivery details of my personal PPE kit for travel and use in the US. It will include the latest medically approved face masks and a health monitoring device for use throughout my trip. We are hoping to include a rapid testing kit that will allow me to self-test while I am away, but I may have to acquire that in the US, where they are available over the counter in drug stores.
4. Contact details for my Covid test prior to my departure from LA to NZ. Having a negative test prior to boarding the flight is part of a protocol that we believe should form the basis of any flights back to NZ in the immediate future.
5. Confirmation of my two-week self-isolation location in Auckland, designed to meet the conditions of the government's 150 trial.
6. Description of the process I will go through in Auckland, including testing required by officials before leaving the airport where my "Covid proofed" car will pick me up with a fully vaccinated, Covid negative, driver.
7. I will be driven to my accommodation which, to match your 150 business trial, is a stand-alone facility, but we will also present hotel/apartment models that will be vital if we are to scale this process to the necessary level to keep the economy moving.
8: At the self-isolation site I will find:
• A geo-fencing tracking device that I will use throughout my 2 weeks stay
• A MicroGEM PCR testing device, a Rako Science test kit, and, if we can access them, a set of antigen tests for daily monitoring. These will run alongside your official nasopharyngeal test. These multiple testing regimes are simply to provide examples of the various options available to us.
• An AI-based health App that monitors vital health signs in real-time.
• Food, drink, and exercise equipment as requested
• Contact number for medical assistance
• Contact number for other requests I may have
• I also expect to undergo any testing required for the 150 trial.
During this process, we will demonstrate options that could significantly reduce the amount of time needed for Managed Self Isolation. It is hoped that this will ultimately mean a system where the maximum stay required would be three to five days and able to be done at home, with family, anywhere in the country.
Our goal is to ensure we do not have to seek a special exemption that will take up current MIQ slots that should be used for those who have been stuck overseas for months. It is also to demonstrate the need to place improved testing regimes alongside the importance being placed on vaccination. Just as we need to be protecting lives and livelihoods we also need to be talking about vaccination and testing.
If successful, this model could be applied to the overwhelming waiting list of Kiwis trying to get home. If they can demonstrate they are vaccinated and negative on landing, the time they spend taking up valuable MIQ space could be significantly reduced. Ideally, they could go straight home and self-isolate with appropriate monitoring measures in place. We call this Self-Managed Isolation.
Prime Minister, we started out as a "Team of 5 Million" but we have seen thousands cast adrift in life rafts with no sight of land. He Waka Eke Noa!
It's time to call on The Bench to help get them back on board.
As always - we are here to help.