What did the Government not want us to know? Despite receiving a report on September 28, Chris Hipkins released it the Friday before Christmas. I googled the report and found out why.
It is called the "Report of the Advisory Committee to oversee the implementation of the New Zealand Covid-19 Surveillance Plan and Testing Strategy". The report reveals our Covid testing plan was written by a veterinary epidemiologist. The plan was flawed. For eight months our borders were wide open.
If the report was released when it was received Labour could never have run a "Covid election".
The advisory committee was chaired by two safe pairs of hands, Heather Simpson, Helen Clark's former Chief of Staff and Sir Brian Roche, a civil service favourite. Both can be relied upon not to criticise any minister.
The report found that the Government did not have testing that was "fit for purpose" and the country needs a "more effective, coordinated and aligned approach" to "safeguarding our borders".
There is "poor communications both between and within, the Ministry of Health…a lack of appreciation of operational implications of directives; and poorly designed risk targeting of testing regimes, particularly at the border".
"It is clear to the Committee that reports of progress on issues did not always reflect concrete action on the ground." (We were lied to).
"Without exception government agencies we spoke to expressed concern at their inability to be 'heard' by the Ministry of Health."
"The Ministry of Health were seen as operating without full regard for the impact of and or understanding of the operationalisation impacts of their decisions."
"Health sector service providers expressed frustration at receiving last minute instructions for changes which they believed did not recognise much of what was already happening on the ground."
"Delays in making payments to service providers has increased dissatisfaction with the system and at times made for reluctance to increase testing rates."
GPs thought they were being told not to test patients showing symptoms.
The All-of Government Group has effectively become a "Rest of Government Unit", being everything other than Health.
"Too often decision-making papers have gone to Cabinet with little or no real analysis of options… it should not be continuing eight months into an issue."
"Previously, the Director of Public Health would have been accountable for and have an independent role advising on pandemic issues." (He is still excluded).
"The Ministry of Health is not well informed on the details of how the economy or the social sector operates."
At September 28, "port orders still only apply to Auckland and Tauranga, despite the fact that there are ports all around the country processing cargo and crews every day. That represents a large gap in the security of the overall border".
After the first lockdown "better use could have been made in the 102 days to prepare for the inevitable outbreak…The resurgence plan was not well enough developed to have been tested before it was required for the live outbreak in Auckland".
The report criticised "the effect of labelling some groups as essential for testing and therefore other groups as non-essential…the aim should be for people with diabetes and the elderly not to become infected in the first place…testing should be offered to all people presenting with symptoms."
"All efforts should be made to introduce saliva testing as soon as possible." (This still has not been done).
The report lists 30 pages of incompetence. As Fred Dagg would say; "We do not know how lucky we are" to be Covid free.
The committee describes a visit to Auckland Airport and a managed isolation facility where they saw obvious failings such as inadequate cleaning. Why did ministers not notice these failings?
It gives little confidence in the roll out of the vaccine or the response to another community outbreak. The Government continues to rely on its Covid APP that the public finds too hard to use.
Jacinda Ardern promised her government's "first priority" is "transparency". Never have we received better PR and less transparency.
What I do not criticise is the commissioning of this report. It is how we learn lessons. The report says the pandemic has exposed fundamental weakness in our health sector. The Prime Minister admitted New Zealand adopted an eradication strategy because our hospitals could not cope with Covid. Instead of congratulatory knighthoods we need real leadership in health.
There will be more pandemics. This Government in its first year set up 75 inquiries but is yet to announce an inquiry into the pandemic of the century. Australia has already a royal commission into its response to Covid for aged care that has released a valuable report.
To be prepared it is vital New Zealand set up an independent royal commission into all aspects of the response to the pandemic.