This is part eight of a series in which Sir Ian Taylor provides updates on his travel trial.
I read in the Herald that a government official, in response to a recommendation that the Government should undertake broad surveillance testing among South Auckland's Pasifika, dismissed the recommendation on the grounds that it was "dangerous and racist".
This highlights just how out of touch so many of the officials dealing with the Covid response have been.
We have already seen how handing the vaccination programme over to community providers has accelerated the uptake of vaccination in the Pasifika community out in Māngere but, once again, we get the "we know best" line, and the idea is scuttled before it gets off the ground.
And what I have discovered during 151 Off the Bench is there are solutions out there. Many of them Kiwi.
As I have documented so far, the process through the airport was exemplary – yes it will need to scale, but we know we can help them do that. The process from my leaving the plane until arriving at my self-isolation destination was completely in the hands of government officials so it wasn't until I was dropped off at the house that I could actually start a comparison between a government-managed process and the process put in place by the team off the bench.
Within an hour of arriving at my destination the team from Jupl (a Kiwi company) had activated the wrist band that would enable them to monitor my location to provide MBIE with evidence that I was remaining within the premises. The monitoring was linked to Matrix Security (a Kiwi company) that could respond immediately to any data they received that indicated that I had breached my perimeter. That data is going to them every two minutes.
Sometime after that set up I got a phone call from the official Self-Isolation management team asking me to click on a link they texted me so they would be able to access the GPS on my phone to ascertain my location and the camera so they could tell it was me.
The application crashed immediately. We tried several times but, in the end, I simply had to tell them where I was and promise I hadn't been outside. This happened 3 more times during the day, with the same non result. As I was heading up to bed at 9.30 I got a knock on the door. It was a security guard, holding out a phone so I could tell the person at the other end that it was me and the guard could confirm I was where I was meant to be!
The staff conducting the process were extremely polite, and apologetic, and they finally got the system working halfway through day 2. But like our nurses, doctors, border staff and Covid tracers they are the troops on the frontlines working with a system designed by faceless officials who always seem to know best.
The official Self-Isolation programme also provided protocols for monitoring my health. That consists of an email I receive, and I tick some boxes.
The Seki system (a Kiwi company) that was put in place by the team off the bench provides real time monitoring of my health that can be monitored remotely by Doc Mayhew from his office. It is simple to use and provides Doc with 16 different measurements, many of which I have never heard of, like "Hermatocrit". My Hermatocrit count was within range but Doc saw a couple that were on the low side.
That's where the Tyto Care camera system comes into play. I go online and Doc tells me where to point the camera - eyes, ears, throat etc – and he does his initial diagnosis to decide whether I need a physical visit. Without this technology Doc would have had to get someone to visit, in full PPE, and that medical/nursing resource that is already stretched to breaking point and likely to get worse.
Obviously, this level of technology would not be needed for everyone, but we have already seen high-risk patients in self-isolation die and it seems that there is no system in place to deal to those situations. Seki has struggled to even have its various solutions considered by the officials.
And finally there's the testing.
To deliver broad base testing like that suggested by Rodney Jones you need systems that lend themselves to being applied easily and enable people from the local community to be trained in using them. There are two Kiwi solutions that deliver on that front – and here's how I know.
When I landed at Auckland International Airport, I took one of the official nasopharyngeal PCR tests. That was Tuesday morning, and it is now coming up to Thursday lunch time and I have not yet received a result.
In contrast, I have had two separate negative PCR tests delivered by Rako Science and MicroGEM, the two Kiwi companies. The MicroGEM test delivered a result in 27 minutes. I conducted the test myself. The Rako Science test was picked up from my door at 9am, and I had the result back in the afternoon. Both are saliva-based tests, so there is no reason to fear the swab up your nose.
A combination of these two systems could easily be deployed through local providers, like Dr Api and his team at the Cavendish Doctors Clinic in Manukau, to deliver the very focused testing needed in the areas where the need is greatest. Eventually it could be rolled out across the country to provide peace of mind for all of us.
For reasons I simply cannot fathom, officials at MOH have failed to engage with these two Kiwi companies to see how their technologies might help ease the backload that is now a feature of the Canadian solution they decided was best for us.
Covid has provided us with many opportunities. A significant one of those was for New Zealand to be a platform for trialling and developing global solutions like Rako Science, MicroGEM, Orbis and many others I have heard of.
If we are to start living with Covid, then we need to consider both vaccination and testing as being of equal importance. We have been tied to one testing system, picked by officials at the MOH, and now, like MIQ, the system is stretched to breaking point.
As I submit this report I still have no result from the official test taken on Tuesday so it's comforting to know that two Kiwi companies have my back.