Prime Minister - in the past week, since suggesting a possible alternative to MIQ for businesspeople who had to travel and were doing so with no idea when they would get back, I have been overwhelmed by the constructive suggestions that have come from The Bench.
I have not yet heard from any of your officials working on this challenge. I imagine a lot of them will be trying to figure out a way to make the waiting room for MIQ considerably bigger than it was when it launched. One of my team, who needs to get to Australia to prepare for The Ashes, had 23,000 people in front of him when they shut the door. If there was such a thing as virtual COVID this would not be a great room to be in!
And that's the issue that was brought up constantly by The Bench.
MIQ is as big a threat to keeping their businesses operating as is COVID. These are the businesses whose taxes help fund the front-line workers battling to keep us safe on the ground, the government officials, and their advisers and, of course, all the politicians. They are also the businesses we will need to still be operating and growing when we finally settle on what "the new normal" is.
Word was that some of your officials have been working on a paper over the past few weeks to address the MIQ issue for business, but very few of us had any idea who those officials were or what they were planning.
Over the past week, The Bench has been working on a more immediate plan we'd like to share with you to go alongside the work your officials are doing.
We all agreed that we need to work together and do it with complete transparency rather than behind closed doors. This way everyone would learn about some of the tools and processes already being used by businesses, here and overseas, to keep their people, and their jobs, safe.
Did you know there was a company in Dunedin that has driven a multi-million dollar programme that has resulted in a portable COVID rapid testing device that can give you a PCR result in 25 minutes?
Or another New Zealand company that can retrofit your air conditioning that will kill 99.9% of all pathogens in the room - including COVID. And then there are the companies that are already using rapid testing to test all their staff each day, so they have early warnings of a potential outbreak. Or the device that you can wear on your arm, like an iPhone, to detect the earliest symptoms of COVID.
All these companies have stepped up but very few knew what the others were doing. What they all had in common was they weren't able to get through to you with what they had to offer.
So, here's our idea - which we will conduct out in the open so others can contribute as we progress. It will not cost the government a cent, but we may need you to make a call to Australia because the plan is for me to make a business trip to Sydney in the next couple of weeks.
I asked around work who was best to do this - everyone agreed that everything worked better when I was out of the office, so it's me. Like everyone in our company, I am vaccinated.
Although I am in a city that hasn't had a Covid case for over a year, we will treat this test as though I was in Auckland.
For seven days prior to departure, I will live under Level 3 constraints, and I will be rapid tested every day. On days 1 and 5, I will be PCR tested as well. One of New Zealand's major companies that is rapid testing its own staff each day has agreed to provide the expertise I need for the rapid testing. I will also test the PCR mobile device during this period.
I will fly to Sydney where I will be antigen tested on landing and met by a fully vaccinated driver. A major hotel brand has agreed to be part of this trial, subject to gaining the necessary approvals from the NSW government. This is where your phone call could help, especially as I am coming from the COVID free South Island, there's only one of me, and I will be tested every day.
The hotel chain provides quarantine facilities for a number of Australian state governments, but I will be taken to a non-Quarantine hotel and given a room in a separate wing away from other guests. They have a comprehensive plan around COVID safety and wellbeing and have previously used an alternative quarantine proposal which has been successfully applied to accommodate international sporting teams staying in their hotels, backed by a carefully followed 50-page COVID-safe plan. They will provide room service meals delivered by fully vaccinated staff wearing masks.
Once I have cleared the agreed quarantine period, even if it is two weeks, I will travel with the hotel driver to the FOX offices where they have a process of rapid testing for anyone entering the building, including staff.
On completion of my business there, I will fly back to Auckland where I will be PCR tested using the new portable device before flying to Dunedin where I will go into a private dwelling on my own. I will be PCR tested on my first day back and resume my daily testing until having a final PCR test at a time determined by your officials.
We will do all of this in full view of the public with daily reporting through The Herald.
We will also work with you to identify an independent audit company to oversee the process and we will provide them with the app we built for our staff working offshore. It's called ResponseAbility.
I will use my time in isolation to share the many stories I have been given of businesses that have been severely impacted by MIQ, along with the equally compelling stories of some of the technology and practices that are being developed for a world living with COVID.
We all agree that things will ease when we reach 90% vaccination, but we need to have a plan in place if that doesn't happen in the time frame you think it will, or worse, the vaccination does not prove to be as effective as we hope.
It's time to consider saving livelihoods, as well as lives, as we plan for an uncertain future.
Let's do this!