The business and tech-industry cavalry have taken charge of Sir Ian Taylor's self-managed isolation plan to prove to the Government it will work seamlessly. Jane Phare reports.
By the second week of November, Dunedin businessman Sir Ian Taylor will be under closer observation than a maximum security prisoner. Every heartbeat, every movement, every Covid-19 test and his mental health will be scrutinised by a team of experts who volunteered to help the moment when they heard the joyous news that Taylor's #151 Off The Bench proposal had been approved by the Government for trial, following his series of columns in the Herald.
Nothing has been left to chance. The business community in particular has a vested interest in making the self-managed isolation protocol work to counteract what Taylor calls "the other virus", the effect of border closures and extended lockdowns on Kiwi businesses, the economy and people's mental health.
Like a volunteer lab rat, Taylor will be tested and retested before he leaves Covid-free Dunedin on November 1 to fly to Auckland, and then on to Los Angeles. He'll be re-tested at both airports. Once in LA, the Animation Research founder will have a meeting with Fox Sport about covering golf, and another in San Francisco with Major League Baseball.
But what's exciting him more is his #151 Off The Bench project (a reference to talent being brought off the bench to help out a team). From the moment Taylor won approval, Auckland Unlimited and the business and tech community put their hands up asking how they could help. Those offers included:
• a standalone Herne Bay townhouse, owned by a high-profile businessman, to use as the headquarters for the 14-day self isolation
• Geo-fencing, by Auckland IT company Seki.ai, around the property and a geo-sensing watch to make sure Taylor stays put
• a SekiBeat health patch on Taylor's chest which will monitor his health and vital signs 24/7
• the use of a remote GP tool called SekiLife so that a doctor can monitor any health concerns off site
• the use of Dunedin company MicroGEM's fast saliva Covid-19 testing equipment called Spitfire6830 which will produce a positive or negative test in 25 minutes at Dunedin Airport, Auckland Airport and, if all goes to plan, at Los Angeles Airport
A border steering group made up of a cross section of businesses and organisations, and headed by Auckland Unlimited, broke into a smaller sub-committee to help with Taylor's #151 plan.
Seasonz Travel managing director Sam Porter and his team have already checked the Auckland townhouse to make sure it meets MBIE and MIQ requirements for self-managed isolation. The driveway needs to be is separate and outdoor exercise space must be secluded and secure.
Taylor will be collected from Auckland Airport on his return from LA, where he will be tested for Covid-19 again, and taken to the townhouse by an approved, vaccinated driver wearing PPE gear in a car with a separation screen fitted between the driver and the back seat.
Once inside the house, using an internal entrance from the garage, Taylor will be able to link up with the team on Zoom who will walk and talk him through the property (which Taylor has never visited) to show him where the food is, how appliances work and point out his exercycle in the garage.
On arrival, Seki.ai staff will clamp the geo-watch on his wrist and set up the geo-fencing around the property. If Taylor tries to tamper with the watch or steps outside the perimeter, alarms will go off.
Porter says safety precautions go "way beyond" what MBIE expects.
"He [Taylor] will have every single test you can imagine. We're trying to demonstrate that we can get people out of New Zealand and back in, no matter what happens with this [Delta] outbreak, really safely both for New Zealand and the person travelling. We've been trying to lobby the Government about this for a long time."
Monitoring Taylor's health remotely will be former All Blacks and Warriors doctor John Mayhew, now Seki.ai's medical director. He'll be able to monitor Taylor's vital signs including heart rate, oxygen saturation, temperature, respiration rate, heart rate variable, blood pressure and access ECG information.
The SekiBeat patch is the latest development by Pasifika-owned company Seki.ai, based in South Auckland with offices in Israel, the UK and Australia. Founder and owner John Mamea-Wilson says the patch could be used to measure stress and anxiety levels in people isolating in MIQ hotels so that support could be given earlier.
Back in the townhouse, if Taylor feels unwell, he will be able to use the SekiLife clinic-in-a-box device enabling Mayhew to do a consultation involving the ears, throat, nose, heart and lungs. The device has a tongue depressor connected to a high-definition video camera.
"So Doc Mayhew can be sitting in his office in Northcote and look inside his [Taylor's] mouth, his ears, hear his heart. So if he's not feeling well, instead of sending a doctor round there, he'll connect straight to Doc Mayhew. He'll be able to do all those checks in real time," Mamea-Wilson says.
The geo-watch technology was originally developed for offshore oil rigs so that supervisors knew the locations of staff at all times, and could react quickly if a worker fell overboard. The technology has also been used in Australia for indigenous return-to-home prisoner programmes.
Messages can be sent to Taylor via the watch. Mamea-Wilson jokes that if Taylor steps outside the perimeter he'll get a message saying 'You've got 30 seconds to get back within the perimeter.'
"If that doesn't happen then I guess the boys in blue will turn up or whatever the protocol is."
Apart from the Government-approved nasopharyngeal PCR tests, Taylor will also have daily Rako Science saliva tests and test himself daily using Spitfire6830, MicroGEM's fast saliva Covid-19 testing equipment which gives a result in 25 minutes.
MicroGEM's chief scientific officer Dr David Saul says testing using the device is a back-up to approved testing at this stage while the company waits for FDA approval, expected to come through in the next two weeks.
More than $115 million has gone into the development of the machine, partly funded by the US Government. The biochemistry has been developed in New Zealand, the test cartridge in the US and the machine design in Australia, a process that would normally take three to five years to develop. With the arrival of Covid-19 the development was squeezed into 18 months, he says.
Saul estimates the Spitfire6830 will sell for just over $10,000, with each test costing about $50.
Taylor has been blown away by all the offers of help, including companies overseas. FOX Sport offered to deliver pathogen testing, available in drug stores in the US, to his hotel room to be there when he arrives. Mainfreight in the US has helped with transport and other expat Kiwis have rallied around.
Porter says 14 days is a long time to be in isolation and he hopes, if the plan works, it will eventually be shorted to between three and five days for double vaccinated people. Every aspect has been thought through for Taylor's isolation.
"We have a great plan, including mental health people talking to him."
Protocols have also been worked out if Taylor, 71, tests positive for Covid-19 at any stage. "The system is foolproof but foolproof doesn't mean you don't get Covid. Foolproof means you don't bring it in and spread it to the community."
At the end of Taylor's #151 programme, EY has been commissioned to present a full report to the Government.