This is the latest of a series in which Sir Ian Taylor provides updates on his travel trial.
I start today in a state of complete and utter despair.
I have tried so hard, with the support of incredibly innovative Kiwis, to provide politicians and Government officials with a way forward that would give us a ray of hope to counter the shadow of fear that has been generated constantly from the daily press conferences.
Yesterday we were once again delivered the unchallenged factoid that 30,000 people would have died had we not been locked away, families separated, loved ones left to die alone, weddings cancelled - some multiple times - businesses destroyed and fellow Kiwis, so many of them now stateless, homeless and broke - stranded overseas.
Over the past weeks I have been inspired by the incredibly innovative Kiwi companies that have stepped up to help, by the thousands of messages of support from so many of you out there and by the constant encouragement from my incredible team - my family - in Dunedin who have given me the time and space away from the day-to-day business to do something they believe is important as well.
During that time, I have been filled with a growing sense of optimism that there is a way forward that need not be shrouded in fear. A fear that is now creating dangerous chasms across Aotearoa.
Yesterday that optimism was dashed when the Prime Minister announced that nothing was going to change on our borders until sometime in the first quarter of next year.
Our goal has always been to start bringing people home before Xmas. People like the father who has not yet seen his 1-year-old son. People like my friend who is dying and had given up all hope of seeing his grandchildren again, who sent me a message that simply said – "thank you for what you are doing – at least I now have a small ray of hope back!" People like the dad who contacted me while I was in the States to tell me he had no way to feed his two boys because his visa had expired and our MIQ failure had left him stranded with no way to work.
And then there are the businesspeople, like Chris Hardy from Wing Acoustic, who spent the weekend explaining to his children why he may not be home for Xmas, or any of the Xmas holidays at all, because the huge opportunity his small Kiwi company has been offered in one of the biggest markets in the world meant he had to go, with no way back.
Or the numerous tourism companies who had started to see a ray of light brought on by vaccination and opening of borders across the world who had those hopes dashed with a flurry of cancellation within hours of the announcement that effectively puts international tourism back another season.
Ever the optimist, I was prepared to still argue our case, even though the Prime Minister had seemed to make it clear no one was going to be listening. But this morning I got this email from the organisation that has been handed almost unlimited power in the execution of our Covid Response Strategy.
Kia ora IAN LEMUEL,
You are receiving this email because our records indicate you have not yet had a day 9 test while you are self-isolating in the community.
Under Part 1C, clause 15GR of the Covid-19 Public Health Response (Isolation and Quarantine) Order 2020 (the Order), you are required to report for, and undergo, medical examination and testing for Covid-19 on day 9 of your isolation or quarantine. You must remain in self-isolation until you have received a negative result from this Covid-19 test, as outlined in the Order.
t is very important that you get this test to provide assurance to yourself, your whānau, and your community that you don't have Covid-19. If you are unable to access a testing facility, please seek further advice here.
Ministry of Health
Apart from the fact that they have my name wrong, it's Ian Lemuel Taylor, they actually sent a driver to pick me up yesterday – day 9 – to take me to the testing station where I used the bar code they had sent me to show the people who tested me. The same driver brought me back to my self-isolation house where I now await the result of that test, even though yesterday I took two Kiwi PCR tests that I had the results for on the same day. Both negative, but the ministry does not recognise them. If it did, instead of an email telling me I hadn't done their test, I would be getting an email telling me I was free to leave self-isolation.
But this is only the end of a long line of instances that have put to rest any idea I may have held that these people had things under control. It goes along with:
1: an email I got asking why I hadn't responded to a health check email – one they had failed to send me.
2: the email I got over the weekend that told me that I had to go and get a nasal swab test on Monday 15 at 2.08am. No instructions of where or how I got there. I waited but nothing happened.
3: the call I got from a fellow self-isolation trialist to tell me that he had received a similar email. Taking it on face value he got in his car, on his own, drove to the nearest testing station, joined the queue in the car park, got tested through the window, and returned home. The following day he got an email advising him that because he had left his property he was in breach of the conditions of the self-isolation programme and that their legal team would be following up on said breach.
4: the government abandoning and or deferring the saliva-based testing programme that they had awarded to a Canadian company, despite the existence of a Kiwi-based solution that worked. The $60 million contract has since become the subject of a scathing review by the Auditor General.
5: the fact that I have yet to receive any results from the two Canadian tests I took before they were abandoned. In contrast, I received the results from the Kiwi test I took at the same time within a matter of hours. Both have shown I am negative.
6: the successful case taken by Murray Bolton where his argument that stranding Kiwis overseas and preventing business people from doing what they need to do to keep the country running is against the Bill of Human Rights.
All of this has happened to me in less than four weeks. How long has it been happening – and to how many other people who haven't had a platform like this to respond on?
This is quite clearly a ministry that is under stress and, from the evidence I have seen, is making the most basic of mistakes.
Despite our offer to provide help the only response I have ever had from the Ministry of Health was an email from the Office of the Director General to the Herald claiming that I was wrong to suggest that the $60 million dollar saliva trial had been abandoned. After providing them with a statement from Minister Hipkins as my source for that claim the emails stopped.
Until the one I got today.
I have believed from the outset that politics should play no part in the way we respond to this national emergency. He waka eke noa – we are all in this boat together.
But for the sake of complete transparency these are my politics.
Apart from two occasions, I have voted Labour all my life. Those two occasions, where I gave my support to National, were when John Key recognised that Pita Sharples and the Māori Party had a legitimate role to play in government and the second time was when Bill English as Minister of Finance introduced the idea that there needed to be evidence of a "social return on investment" for any use of government taxpayer funds.
From day one politics should have been put to one side and we should have been talking about Saving Lives and Livelihoods. More than a year on the new lesson we need to take, now that elimination is no longer an option, is that testing is as important as vaccination.
Vaccines don't prevent us from catching Covid or passing it on. Testing tells us whether or not we have Covid. Making a range of tests freely available across the country, putting an efficient testing system in place at our borders, making them readily available at our schools and businesses - this is how we move forward without dividing the country between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. If regular testing is used, then the first and most important question is answered: am I endangering those people around me?
Dr Ashley Bloomfield, as the most powerful person in the country, this is your call. The single test you have approved for public use is simply not delivering what other people have available to them around the world.
While I await the result of your test, if they find it, I have had three separate results from alternative systems, all of which have given me a negative response. It is this suite of options, horses for courses, that gives us the best protection and we are past waiting on your officials to complete never-ending tests for solutions that are being successfully implemented offshore.
The email I received from your ministry telling me that II hadn't taken the test I took, and am still waiting on the result for, suggests that you are heading up an agency that has been overwhelmed by the task you have given it. There are people out here who are ready to help.
That too is your call.