As the only practising doctor in parliament and as part of the National Party health team, to the Government my message is simple - how can we help? This is a time for calm composure and leadership and my caucus colleagues and I are ready and willing to help manage this outbreak to keep New Zealanders safe.
We have experience in infectious diseases that we are offering. We have networks into primary care that may be even deeper than what the Government alone can reach and we bring these relationships to the table. We have MPs in electorates at the top and bottom of the country and they and others can carry health messages to those that they serve. How can we help?
We don't come with brave words and empty hands but we also bring solutions. Contact tracing is clearly proving a problem for those that have arrived on flights. Even now we still seem to be searching for passengers on the Emirates flight that brought the first coronavirus case.
Our suggestion to the Government is to introduce the Health Declaration Card (HCD) that already sits in emergency response documentation just not in the pandemic documentation that seems to have captured all the imagination in the room. The Health Declaration card can be found in the Ministry of Health 2016 document "Responding to Public Health Threats of International Concern at New Zealand Air and Sea Ports".
A Health Declaration Card is similar to the arrival card except it carries extra information such as who the passenger is travelling with, eg a travel group, self-identification of symptoms and whether the person has had contact with someone with respiratory symptoms in the past few days.
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During a recent flu epidemic the Australian government introduced Health Declaration Cards to passengers on flights. The information that was new and extra to the arrivals card included alternative seat number if moved and two symptom questions, firstly "Do you have a fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, headache or muscle aches and pains? Yes or No" and secondly "In the last 7 days have you had contact with someone who had a severe respiratory illness ? Yes or No". This form also required a signature with the warning "Providing false or misleading information is an offence".
A Health Declaration Card is a step that I would recommend to the Government but I think we can do even better. Air New Zealand is a world-leading airline so here is another opportunity to lead the world.
I challenge Air New Zealand to create a Health Declaration Card using the inflight entertainment system. I noticed at the Air New Zealand check-in kiosks this week that there is now a health message screen. When I sit in my seat the inflight entertainment already knows me and says welcome Shane.
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I can enter data on the touch screen such as airpoints details. I believe Health Declaration Card information can be entered using the inflight entertainment system and then that information can be electronically sent to customs at arrivals while the plane is en route. This would give customs plenty of forewarning around measures they need to take and people they need to speak to.
Efficient processing at the border would also reduce the risk of group congestion and indifferent form filling from tired passengers. Air New Zealand are smart, they can do this.
As a caucus we have a menu of ideas and experience that we bring to the table and so I extend the hand of collegiality to the Government and say again, how can we help?