Sir Ian Taylor's government-approved self-isolation pilot begins this week as he flies from Dunedin to Auckland, on to Los Angeles and San Francisco, and return to Aotearoa safely without taking up a space in a hopelessly overloaded MIQ system. Follow his journey with the Herald.
Prime Minister – as part of the 150 Business Self-Isolation programme, currently being trialled by the government (I think of myself as #151 Off the Bench) I thought it might be useful to share a few insights on the journey to date.
One of my first observations is that we need to acknowledge why it is we are undertaking such a trial in the first place. I am not sure that has been done.
There is a Māori whakatauki, a proverb, that says: "The footsteps we lay down in our past, create the paving stones upon which we stand today."
In the Māori worldview, those footsteps are always in front of us – so we can learn from them. When those footsteps have taken us down a path that may not have worked out as we had thought, we don't apportion blame, we deal with those footsteps that lie in front of us, acknowledge what they tell us, and change direction.
The European version of that could well be - "It's all very well in hindsight!" It's a defensive approach that we have seen repeated constantly in response to the shortcomings of our current MIQ system.
There appears to be a reluctance to acknowledge that the current system has not been working for months and the system needs a major overhaul, not the tinkering around the edges that we saw with the flawed "waiting lobby", where it seems people can simply make-up passport or license numbers to get in the queue multiple times, or again last week with the announcement of the shortening of the isolation period from 14 days to 7. A move that will still see thousands of people missing out on ballots for months to come.
In early 2020, MIQ, was the only realistic response to a global pandemic that we knew very little about, other than it was life-threatening and extremely contagious. It was already crossing borders around the world and closing entire countries, so quarantining arrivals was clearly the right thing to do. As an island nation, we were in a unique position to put in place measures that would prevent Covid-19 from making it into New Zealand. At least until we found ways to treat it and keep our people safe.
That has changed.
We have not eliminated the virus. An outbreak that your initial modelling told us could reach as high as 140 cases if we didn't go into lockdown immediately, now stands at almost 1,500 and has spread across both islands. That has happened even though we went into lockdown within a matter of hours of the first notification of a single case. I don't recall seeing any explanation of why that number was so wrong – it is certainly one of the footsteps that needed to be explained so we could be assured that numbers that followed could be trusted.
So, what else can we learn from the footsteps we have taken to date?
First, the idea of eliminating the virus, however we interpret the word eliminate, really needed to be a global approach. The fact that it wasn't, has meant that we are now out on a limb as the rest of the world moves to living with the virus. The risk to our international business, the engine that will fund our recovery, is growing daily as we fail to take heed of the lessons that are laid out in the footsteps we have taken over the past year and a half.
The most immediate of those is MIQ.
Prime Minister, there is nothing wrong in acknowledging that we need to change direction as we learn more from those footsteps we, and others, have laid down.
So, as we start to lay our first footsteps for this self-isolation trial, let's simply agree that the current MIQ system is no longer fit for purpose.
It is not right that we have Kiwi citizens stranded, stateless and homeless offshore.
It is not right that we have people who are fully vaccinated, who have tested negative multiple times, but still can't be released from MIQ to travel to be with dying whanau. This is the most basic of human rights. It was hard, but we accepted this restriction in the early days of the pandemic. It is not acceptable any longer.
And finally – it is not right that people who operate businesses that are at the core of the economic engine that keeps the country running, that pays the people, who pay the taxes, that pay the salaries of politicians, their officials and advisers and, most importantly, those incredible front-line workers - nurses, doctors, police, teachers – are now travelling overseas with no way back. They aren't going because it's some kind of perk, as some have suggested. They are going because they have to. They are another example of front-line workers who are making huge personal sacrifices to help us all through these challenging times.
I have had so many people come off the bench to help us find another way forward, to help lay down footsteps in a new direction. We won't have all the answers but at least we are talking, we are sharing ideas and we are focused on making a difference.
Sadly, no one from the government has yet joined this discussion, so I guess I will keep sending you these messages as we proceed.
As always – the bench is here to help.