The Prime Minister's announcement today that self-isolation is set to replace MIQ for returning vaccinated Kiwis will be great news for the hundreds of thousands who have been stranded overseas for months. There are some very encouraging signs but, as we have seen before, the devil will be in the detail.
One of those is the sudden escalation of rapid antigen tests from being banned from the country to now being the major weapon of defence. The Government is now offering to send us all three sets to use on our flight home. That will be an interesting logistical supply line.
If the announcement earlier in the week on how the Government had masterfully increased our rapid antigen test supply from a paltry 4.3 million to 37 million was anything to go by there could well to be further surprises in store as we work out where that devil is hiding.
Having been involved closely over the previous week in connecting Government officials with a supplier whose offer to supply millions of tests had gone unanswered for weeks, I was surprised to see that, for some reason, the press release played down the immediate impact that this supplier, Kudu Spectrum, would have on both the numbers and the cost of the RATs coming into the country.
The press release had the Kudu Spectrum number at 27 million. The actual number is 66.15 million. That's 65 million for the Government and 1.5 million placed by 26 businesses that also took up the Kudu Spectrum offer so they could replace the tests that had been requisitioned by the MOH.
Rather than acknowledging the role businesses had played in helping the Government find this number of tests in such a short time, the press release went on to claim that the Government also had evidence that proved they had not requisitioned any tests already ordered by businesses.
That quite clearly was the spin doctor's alternative fact machine at work. Whilst they hadn't physically gone out and taken the tests, they had approached suppliers with the edict that the late orders that the Government was placing were to supersede those already placed and paid for by private businesses who had the foresight to plan for the impact that omicron could have on their staff.
Not done yet, the announcement went on to say that there was nothing to stop businesses from ordering their own supplies of approved tests and bringing then in themselves.
Well, yes there is.
Apart from the fact that the rules keep changing as Government finds other holes in its Covid Response plan, the global demand for rapid antigen tests is now so great that the small health care provider in Invercargill who called me this week, has no way of getting in on that global supply chain. To make matters worse they currently can't get a response from the MOH as to whether or not they qualify as one of the Governments "essential" businesses with "critical" workers. Confusion reigns as the definitions change daily.
One industry that has been informed that it doesn't qualify is one of our major exporters, the wine industry. A major winery has been informed that, whilst their pickers "might be deemed critical workers" sometime in the future, workers in their bottling and shipping plants will not be deemed critical! You can pick the grapes, but you can't bottle or export the wine from them!
Who makes these decisions?
More importantly, why are they making them?
A major health care provider with retirement villages across New Zealand and Australia has sourced a guaranteed supply of rapid antigen tests that are approved around the world. They use them in all their facilities in Australia but their request to have them cleared for use in New Zealand has been lingering somewhere on an official's desk since October. Their latest setback was news from one of these officials that Canada's approval of the test was not accepted here! That's Canada, a country that has one of the strictest test regimes in the world.
This health care provider specialises in taking care of some of the most vulnerable people in the country and yet they need the permission of an official in Wellington to bring in their rapid antigen test of choice!
And we need to remember that the only reason the Government has had to create these categories of "essential" businesses and "critical" workers is because they failed to recognise the importance that rapid antigen tests would have when the inevitable happened – Covid got loose in the community. Every business is essential to the workers who work there, every worker is critical to the business that employs them. In the UK our staff just have to place an order online and their test is delivered the following day – for free.
The failure to move quickly on the Kudu Spectrum offer made weeks ago now means that the 65 million order that was placed just hours before the start of Chinese New Year will be delayed until the factory reopens. If the offer had been actioned when first made, 30 - 50 million of those tests could have been here already.
Businesses continue to offer constructive solutions, like the offer from Chris Quinn of the Foodstuff Group to consolidate orders for small business like the one in Invercargill that simply has no way of getting into that global supply chain on its own. Quinn has the ability to place orders in the millions and has offered to pass them on at cost of delivery to businesses that need them to keep their staff safe. It's an incredible offer and all they need from Government is an assurance they will work together to solve this problem facing the majority of businesses in New Zealand, and an assurance that Government won't change the rules on them.
Once we have that sorted that, perhaps we can then get up to speed with the rest of the world and start providing these tests for our ordinary kiwis on the street.
• Ian Taylor is the founder and managing director of Animation Research. He was named the 2019 New Zealand Innovator of the Year and in 2020 was awarded the Deloitte Top 200 Visionary Leader.