This is the latest of a series in which Sir Ian Taylor provides updates on his travel trial.
I was interested to see the different perspective on the 150 Self-Isolation trial by Fonterra's CEO, Miles Hurrell.
What I took from it was that he found all the people he dealt with were really nice.
I found that too, but I wouldn't have thought that was a solid base upon which to measure the success or otherwise of the trial.
I am sure comments from the CEO of one of New Zealand's largest export companies will feature significantly in the final report on the 150 Self-Isolation Trial when it is released sometime in the new year, but I am hoping that Mr Hurrell will take some time to read the Ernst Young report that we will release publicly later this week.
A report that asks the question, why do we have to wait until sometime in the new year to start giving our businesses certainty and why can't we start bringing our stranded kiwis home now?
I run an SME and our revenues would be little more than a rounding error in the revenues generated by Fonterra. Perhaps that's why those of us on 151 Off the Bench brought a different perspective to how the government-run trial was conducted.
The large majority of companies we were representing in our 151 Off the Bench trial do not have large offices offshore that have been able to keep their businesses running, and profitable, on Zoom meetings. We have had staff members stranded overseas for months because we weren't able to bring them home as we would normally do. They have been our frontline heroes that have kept our company operating on the international stage, at enormous sacrifice to their own personal lives. These were the people we hoped to represent on this trial.
I agree with Mr Hurrell that the young people operating the call centre were nice and helpful, but the question that needed to be asked is how scalable this is, how secure it is and are there other technologies that could be used to improve this service to something beyond just being nice.
Like Mr Hurrell, I had four to five calls a day. They were always pleasant and the technology, Kiwi technology, that was used was world class. In our 151 Off the Bench trial, we added another Kiwi technology, the Jupl geo-locator wrist band. This technology confirmed my position every two minutes, sent it to a monitoring centre every five minutes and resulted in me taking just three calls in my entire self-isolation period. The first was to tell me my phone was down to 15 per cent charge, the second was to check whether I had crossed the fence to my neighbours' place for five minutes (I hadn't). and the final time was when I forgot to tell them I was going to have my final PCR test and I went outside the electronic geo-fence that had been set up. This technology significantly reduced the demand on the human resource, something that will be critical when we scale up to join the rest of the world. Equally importantly it knew I was within my self-isolation area continuously. Not just four to five times a day.
The good news is that both technologies have a role to play in a future self-isolation programme that could be a world leader.
And then there is the question of timing that hangs over this praiseworthy programme.
Like Mr Hurrell, I had the luxury of knowing when I would be coming home. There are people who have headed overseas on essential business who have no idea when they will be able to come back. The Prime Minister has said that they won't be making a decision on this until sometime in the first quarter of next year. That delay is directly related to a self-isolation trial that has not set any identifiable outcomes.
We believe we can start bringing people home before Christmas and to let the government delay implementing anything from this trial so they can take their Christmas break is simply not something any of us in business should be accepting.
As an owner of an SME, the use of resources is also something that we have to keep front of mind. Here is something for Mr Hurrell to consider before he completes his self-isolation questionnaire.
On the day he takes his final PCR test he will be picked up by a driver in full PPE kit, in a van in which he will be the only passenger. I am not sure how far he will be driven but, in my case, I was driven 15 minutes to a testing station where at least three people were involved in taking my test. All of them have had to have been trained specifically to administer the only PCR test approved by the MoH, the agency conducting this trial. I was then driven home. The whole exercise took almost an hour.
The alternative Rako Science PCR test that I conducted on the same day involved someone coming to my door with a tube and a spoon. I filled the tube with saliva, handed it back and that person took it to the lab. The whole process took less than five minutes, and I had the result in four hours. Not only is this safer (I didn't have to leave the house) but it is also more cost-effective. It doesn't need specially trained nasal swabbers, it doesn't need specially set up vehicles and drivers, it doesn't need a large rented space for cars to line up in, and it is a much more user-friendly, saliva-based test.
This Kiwi based Rako Science test is the saliva-based test that was overlooked in favour of a Canadian product that was abandoned by Minister Hipkins in the middle of my 10 days in the self-isolation trial. I did two of their saliva-based tests. I have yet to receive a result for either of them. The contract awarded to the Canadian company, that is now no longer being used in this programme, was worth $60 million. I would have thought that would have played some part in Mr Hurrell's assessment of the programme. The saliva test in question was part of the kit he picked up at the airport.
I do hope Mr Hurrell will take time to look at the bigger picture around this trial. It wasn't well thought through, it doesn't use the range of technologies that were available to it, and it should have been about more than just businesspeople. We need to be bringing all our kiwis home.
I would love to share our findings with him. He is more than welcome to join us off the bench.