This is part eight of a series in which Sir Ian Taylor provides updates on his travel trial.
The one upside of being in self-isolation is you have an abundance of time to catch up on the news.
This weekend's news that Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins has announced that the government is abandoning its own saliva testing pilot for MIQ returnees, which he now believes is not suited to the reduced isolation periods announced in October, had me choking on my toast!
Minister Hipkins, sitting on the bench in front of me are two of your now abandoned saliva test kits that I was meant to use on day five and day nine of my government-run self-isolation trial.
Does your decision to abandon the saliva testing you paid a Canadian company $60 million dollars to deliver, now mean that you will revert to placing further stress on an overworked medical frontline team to travel to all 150 self-isolation venues in Auckland and Christchurch to deliver the nasopharyngeal nasal test that was so slow in coming last week that I almost missed my flight to LA? The same test that I took at Auckland Airport when I landed back here earlier this week. The result of which took 46 hours longer to deliver than the similar Rako Science PCR test I took.
The testing programme that you are now reverting to is a huge concern, but what concerns me even more is your statement that "The Ministry of Health will revisit piloting saliva testing for returnees in the near future."
What does "in the near future" even mean? We need to be dealing with it NOW if we are to give any hope to kiwi stranded around the world because of decisions made by MOH in the past. Leaving them to deal with the future does not give me the greatest degree of confidence.
But here's the good news.
Sitting on the kitchen bench, beside the two official saliva test kits you have now abandoned, are two PCR saliva-based test kits provided by the kiwi company, Rako Science, that I planned to use on day five and day nine, having already had results from them for the day three test I ran. You will be pleased to know I was negative, which I also already knew because of the 27-minute PCR test I had done using another kiwi technology, MicroGEM Spitfire.
Rako Science is more than happy to provide its results, on the same day they are taken, so you can inform the people at the MOH that they don't have to wait for the future – the future is here, and that future is effective and timely saliva-based testing.
The fact that both the options I am using come from kiwi companies, should be something that we can all be proud of. Something your government should be supporting to create those high value jobs you have said are so important to our future. The US government has invested millions of dollars in the development of the MicroGEM platform, but that is something kiwi businesses have become used to – being recognised for our expertise and innovation offshore more than at home.
I really hope that the questions raised by the Auditor-General about potential conflicts of interests and improper procurement processes around the allocation of the $60 million dollar contract for the saliva test you have just abandoned is not behind the decision to revisit saliva-based testing sometime "in the near future".
I have seen first-hand the kiwi technologies that can help you sort this problem now. Those of us on the 151 Off the Bench programme don't believe that kiwi stranded overseas should wait any longer before we start bringing them home, or that the CEO of a kiwi tech company that is set to change the way we listen to music should this weekend be explaining to his children why he may not be here for Xmas, or any of the Xmas holidays, because he has to go overseas to pursue an opportunity to take his small New Zealand based company global. He will leave this week – with no way back!
This isn't about the first quarter of next year – this is about now! This is about building a roadmap where people can see a destination and the time it will take to get there. Like any journey we may have to take a couple of side roads on the way, but we know where we are going, we know why we are going there, and we have a timeline that we are working to.
Ours is Christmas – and our roadmap has two destinations – two deliverables if we are talking in trialing terms:
A) Businesspeople being able to plan "essential" overseas trips knowing that they can get home, and
B) the first of our grounded kiwi making their way back and showing others that there is hope, and that we are serious about getting them home. No more platitudes about understanding what they are going through.
We don't – and we never could.
Minister Hipkins, in a spirit of co-operation, the team at 151 Off the Bench is preparing an official offer to work with your Joint Chiefs of MIQ, Chris Bunny and Brigadier Rose King, to bring what we have learned over these past 4 weeks to help design this roadmap and start delivering results before Christmas
We had 18 months to plan for this, we all knew it was coming – we cannot wait any longer – and we don't need to. The abandoning of your $60 million saliva-based solution for self-isolation is just one further piece of evidence that your team needs help.
We have always been here to help and I will await the response from your Joint Chiefs to the official offer we plan to make in the coming days.