Over the past week I have witnessed what can happen when government officials who want to work outside the box are given authority, encouragement even, to work alongside their private sector counterparts to get things done.
On Thursday last week, with help from Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall, I finally got to speak directly with Dr Ashley Bloomfield and was able to pass on the contact details for a potential supply of rapid antigen tests that he was not aware of. Within 24 hours, given the permission to act, Kelvin Watson, the Ministry of Health's group manager of Covid-19 immunisation, testing and supply, had done his due diligence and ordered the first 5 million tests.
My understanding is the Governmnet has just ordered another 40m tests, extending the total order to 65 million and business has been given an assurance from Bloomfield that the 1.1 million they ordered from the same supplier will not be requisitioned by the Government now that we have put them in contact with one of the biggest suppliers of rapid antigen tests in the world.
A factory that produces 6 million tests a day, 7 days a week.
Now all we need is for Minister Chris Hipkins to take up the offer from Foodstuffs North Island chief executive Chris Quin to use their size, scale and distribution network to ensure that businesses without that scale can get access, at cost, to rapid antigen tests as well.
Minister, it's time to acknowledge that all businesses are essential to the people who work in them, and all workers are critical to the businesses that employ them.
But there is an even more important decision you must make this week, and it too relates to testing.
Two years ago, when the MOH mandated the PCR nasopharyngeal test as the only test that they would accept, there was arguably a strong case for that decision, but the subsequent failure to explore other options is arguably one of the reasons we have had Kiwis stranded overseas without hope, businesspeople travelling abroad not knowing when they will be able to get home, and a border control system that has been totally compromised by the failure to explore more efficient means of isolating people without the need to lock them away in MIQ.
Over the past two weeks we have been working with MBIE and MOH on a self-isolation proposal that I understand is now on your desk for approval. At the core of this proposal is the use of a test called Lucira.
The focus over the past week has been on rapid antigen testing, but Lucira is part of a category called Lamp, or as the medical experts would call it - "reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-Lamp)". This test has been approved as a PCR equivalent by some of the strictest and most technically advanced countries in the world. Countries such as Israel, Singapore, Taiwan, Canada and the US.
I understand that officials at the MOH have followed up on the contacts we provided and have had shared with them independent trials some of these countries have conducted for their approval process.
The game changer with Lucira is that it can deliver a result in 30 minutes and do it at less cost than the current nasopharyngeal test that can take anywhere between 24 and 72 hours to deliver a result.
We have just had our Prime Minister locked in isolation while she waited for her test results. A Lucira test would have given her a result within 30 minutes of hearing she was deemed to be a close contract.
This test was offered to the New Zealand government in July last year. Imagine how better we may have controlled our borders had we used tests like Lucira to require that no one boarded a flight unless they had tested negative five hours before boarding and confirmed their status within an hour of landing.
How many of the current Omicron cases in MIQ would have been detected before they flew to New Zealand? How many Covid cases would have been detected before the last lockdown that cost Auckland $8 billion? How many stranded Kiwis could we have brought home with a system that could have contained a mix of self-isolation and MIQ? How much easier would it be for businesses to send their people offshore knowing they had a safe and sure way home?
We could have had one of the safest borders in the world. And we still could.
Our self-managed isolation proposal is on your desk and all it needs is for you and the MOH to approve the use of Lucira so that we can run the pilot programme we have proposed. It requires a level of trust in business that has been missing for most of this pandemic but hopefully we have demonstrated over the past week what we can do – together.
There is another reason for you and your cabinet colleagues to move on this as quickly as possible.
Lucira Health has offered to supply 2000 tests free to the Tongan relief effort. Air New Zealand has also offered to fly those 2000 tests to New Zealand free. Taking up this offer would mean that we could test all relief workers going from New Zealand to Tonga within an hour before their departure. That would be our contribution to making sure that we have done everything we can to keep Covid out of Tonga.
Prime Minister, we all understand that there are risks involved in moving quickly, but sometimes the risk of not moving at all is greater. Lucira is a case in point. It's been a year and a half since the offer was first made, other countries took up that offer and by sharing their data they have significantly reduced our risk.
Over the past week, working together with your officials, we have moved the country's supply of RATs from 4.3 million to 60 million. In a time of enormous demand we have secured a supply line with one of the largest producer of RATs in the world - at half the cost.
We did it once – let's do it again.
• 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.