A senior medical figure and a former head of the Treasury say an independent body should take over New Zealand's Covid-19 response amid a damning assessment of the Government's management.
In a letter published by the New Zealand Medical Journal today, University of Auckland professor Des Gorman and former Treasury Secretary Murray Horn say a group led by health and economic experts, free from bureaucracy and political interference, was needed to undo the Government's failings.
Gorman said that this past week had been disappointing and described the level of failure as "egregious".
"This is a failure to execute and of governance."
He said the model he was advocating was something that the Government was familiar with.
Gorman said the Minister of Health needed to focus on fixing the crippled health system, which was in significant distress even before the pandemic struck.
"We need the Minister of Health to get on with the job of managing the health system and get out of the job of trying to pretend they're an operational unit that can manage a complex pandemic."
He also called for a change in policy direction to deal with future community outbreaks.
"We shifted from a containment to an elimination strategy, we realised that's not achievable, and we now need a smart containment and elimination policy. We need to go from keep it out, stamp it out to keep it out as much as possible, stamp it out as quickly as possible. Those policy settings need resetting."
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's office has shut down the idea of an expert body, saying the Government's response has been a team effort and no body of experts could ever replace the efforts every New Zealander put into beating the virus.
It comes after Ardern on Wednesday announced 500 more NZ Defence Force staff to be deployed to managed isolation facilities to roll out the testing of staff quicker.
The Government was also directly hiring security guards to help control the facilities, which will make them less reliant on private security guards.
But Gorman said it wasn't enough.
He said clear standards and performances of border control, testing and tracing needed to be made publicly available to restore the trust back into New Zealanders.
One target could be 100 per cent of tests results to be processed within 48 hours and 90 per cent within 24 hours - and then the performance measurement of that would be made public on a routine basis, Gorman said.
He said if this independent group had already been in place Auckland would not be in lockdown.
"The only reason we are in lockdown, is because contacting tracing couldn't be done fast enough and that's because the right measures hadn't been place.
"For example why was there only five community testing stations the day we went into alert level three, there should have been 25 ready to go."
Gorman, also a practising clinician, said lockdowns were not sustainable and better preparation was needed so they could be avoided.
Last week, an ASB report revealed Auckland's latest lockdown measures would cost the economy about $440 million per week - or 0.15 per cent of annual GDP.
He said there had been a failure of governance and management and those failures were now leading to an erosion of trust and confidence, which means New Zealanders were less likely to comply with alert level rules.
"It's worrying because these lockdowns threatened two things; one is the ability to borrow money cheaply to prop the economy up and the other is that compliance depends upon trust and confidence.
"Every time you turn on TV and see egregious breaches of security that trust erodes and that feeling that all these sacrifices we've made have been compromised by what."
He said the Ministry of Health needed to "get back to their day job".
"Before Covid hit, they were working to fix a broken health system. That still needs work."
A spokesperson for Ardern said New Zealand's response to Covid-19 had been comparatively successful and delivered the longest sustained period without community transmission of any country in the world, at 102 days, one of the most open economies in the world, and low infection and death rates.
"While some people do not support level 3 and 4 restrictions, those restrictions have unquestionably saved New Zealanders lives and livelihoods and got our economy back up and running quicker and more successfully than many other countries that have simply attempted to manage the virus as suggested in this letter."
The spokesperson said the Government's health and economic response already included the advice and input of experts and they were continually adjusting settings based on experiences here and in other countries.
"But we have confidence in the Ministry of Health, Treasury, Police, the New Zealand Defence Force and all the other Government agencies involved in our response.
"New Zealanders can be rightfully proud of what the team of 5 million have achieved. Our response has been a team effort and no body of experts can ever replace the efforts every New Zealanders put into beating the virus."
The NZMJ letter was written by Gorman and former Secretary of Treasury Murray Horn.