Scientists are pushing for an official inquiry into New Zealand's response to Covid-19, arguing it would better prepare the country for the next big crisis.
While the Government launched an inquiry into urgent legislation it used to implement its alert level system and lockdown, it hasn't announced an independent probe into its wider response – something Act leader David Seymour has repeatedly called for.
Now, a group of Otago University experts have also asked for one, pointing out that while New Zealand had done an "extraordinarily successful job" of stopping the virus, a wide-ranging inquiry was still critical.
The scientists - professors Michael Baker and Nick Wilson, Associate Professor George Thomson, and Drs Jennifer Summers, Amanda Kvalsvig and Matt Boyd – argued the country needed to know the effectiveness of the various pandemic controls, and if they could be improved in the short and longer term.
There was also a need to know how prepared for a pandemic New Zealand had been – it scored just 54 out of 100 on a recent global index and ranked only 35th out of 195 nations – and how effective various measures like contact tracing, testing, border control and the lockdown had been.
In a blog post published today, they said it was difficult to "disentangle" all of these separate interventions – and knowing the difference that each had made was important for comparing the responses by other countries.
The researchers saw a need to find out more about costs and level of acceptability that had come with New Zealand's "go hard, go early" stance – pointing out that low-income Kiwis could have come off hardest, and that the lockdown likely worsened mental distress, food insecurity and domestic violence.
"In particular, there is a need to hear from Māori organisations and iwi about the impact of the pandemic response on Māori and the acceptability of both the response itself and about how decisions were made and communicated," they said.
"There will almost certainly be lessons around how all the different pandemic controls can be made more appropriate, particularly for populations who were most affected."
The group argued that Kiwis needed to know the implications for how the country's public health systems were organised and resourced.
"New Zealand has suffered from decades of under-investment in public health systems as revealed by outbreaks of measles and the Havelock North disaster with the world's largest waterborne campylobacteriosis outbreak," they said.
"So it is likely that the Covid-19 response can also inform how New Zealand's public health infrastructure and systems might be upgraded.
"Certainly, there are many challenges ahead from the potential impact of climate change on health in New Zealand."
Further, they argued, the country needed more clarity on all of the different health impacts that came with Covid-19 – not just the 1504 cases and 22 deaths recorded, but also indirect effects like delays in treatment amid a scramble in hospitals nationwide.
Answers were also needed around those longer-lasting societal and economic impacts.
"We need to know about the details of all the long-term social and economic impacts, and if the economic response by government could have been improved upon in its design and scale."
The group acknowledged that official inquiries could be slow, expensive and sometimes lead to complex and politicised processes, but argued the downsides could be avoided if planned and resourced properly.
"We recommend that a phased official inquiry be held, with the first phase starting within two months," they said.
"Given the scale of the impact of the pandemic response, this inquiry needs to be at the highest level and be independent of Government."
Their appeal comes as the New Zealand's Law Society has recommended nine amendments to the controversial Covid-19 Public Health Response Act, which gave police the power to potentially enter homes without a search warrant.
At the same time, the Auditor-General has given the mammoth amount of money allocated and spent on its Covid-19 related response its seal of approval but has identified one issue - the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spending money on bringing Kiwis home without getting the nod from Finance Minister Grant Robertson.
New Zealand is part of a coalition of 62 countries backing an Australian push for an investigation into the origin of the Covid-19 outbreak in China.