I was in Canada when I heard my Dad had hours to live. I cancelled everything and boarded the next plane home. How unbearable it must be not to be able to say goodbye to those you love. In the three weeks since the booking system for managed isolation started, around 1500 Kiwis have had their application to return home on humanitarian grounds refused.
If they were "taking one for the team" to keep Covid out, it would be some comfort. We can take no such comfort. They were denied because of a mixture of politics and incompetence.
It is politically popular to be tough on Covid.
It is incompetent because if quarantine was run properly, we could find places for everyone.
Since managed quarantine began in June, some 56,085 people have been detained and tested. Ninety nine per cent did not have Covid. Not one traveller from 10 Pacific Islands has tested positive for Covid. Not a surprise. Those countries have no Covid. Isolation places are being taken by the officials who went to set up the travel bubble with the Covid-free Cook Islands!
No recent direct traveller from Australia has tested positive. No one from China has tested positive since that nation announced it was free of Covid.
The Ministry of Health justified its refusal to grant humanitarian applications, saying Covid is raging in Europe and the US. So quarantine those travellers.
Managed isolation is a euphemism for imprisonment. Instead of calling on the army, the Government should have put Corrections in charge. The army has no experience in running prisons. Corrections have 180 years of experience.
Corrections do not run one-size-fits-all prisons. Corrections assess a prisoner's risk. Few require high security. Some are in home detention. This is how quarantine should be run.
It is the way Taiwan does it. Despite a far larger population, Taiwan has had far fewer Covid cases, fewer deaths, no lockdowns and no school closures. Every traveller must isolate for 14 days. Where travellers quarantine is decided after a vigorous risk assessment. Few travellers must isolate in a hotel. Most travellers are permitted to self-isolate.
Taiwan can do this because their Covid app works. We cannot because our government app does not work. The Taiwanese can track and trace in one hour. Our government is still looking for contacts from the Defence cluster.
Everyone who has tried to use the government's Covid app knows it is user unfriendly. Half the time, my Covid app refuses to scan.
There is a workable New Zealand solution. Sam Morgan, the founder of Trade Me, realised we need a way to rapidly track and trace. His team came up with a Bluetooth card that field trials show can identify every close contact of a suspected Covid case. As everyone keeps their own record, there are no privacy issues. The government has had the solution since July.
It would cost $100 million to issue everyone with the Bluetooth card. The second Auckland lockdown cost an estimated $75m a day. Officials are wasting time doing their own Bluetooth card field trials. No doubt they are hoping that the vaccine will mean they never have to admit the government app is a failure. They are wrong.
We need an efficient track and trace technology now and in the future. For a coronavirus, Covid-19 has been remarkably stable but the virus has jumped from human to mink and mutated to be more virulent. Many scientists believe the virus will defeat the vaccines by mutating. We may need to track and trace Covid cases for many years.
The Government has struggled with the virus because the official pandemic plan is based on fighting the 1919 Spanish flu. I am not making this up. The Taiwanese have succeeded because their pandemic plan is based on what they learned fighting Sars. The Taiwanese realised they needed to use modern technology.
The Government has not just resisted Bluetooth cards but also fast, cheap, do-it-yourself Covid testing. Like the Bluetooth card, it is not perfect. Self-testing can give false positives. Just as the Bluetooth cards are far better than the government's app, do-it-yourself instant testing is better than waiting days for a result. Do-it-yourself tests can detect Covid before the person is infectious. Every self-isolating traveller could take the test every day. Those in high-risk occupations could be taking the cheap do-it-yourself test every day.
Let us stop believing our own propaganda. We are all pleased we are Covid-free, but it was more by luck than good management.
It is not the Kiwi way to abandon members of the team. By being smarter, no one has to suffer the unbearable grief of not being able to say goodbye.