Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Alert Level 1’

Is Air NZ the Covid re-infection problem? Possible evidence points to national airline

7 March 2021 5 comments

. air nz .

A shroud of secrecy surrounds isolation facilities used by Air New Zealand international flight crews.  Until recently, Aucklanders were not even aware that Air NZ had begun to use hotels in the CBD to isolate returning flight crews.

Furthermore, it was revealed that returning Air NZ were leaving their rooms to exercise outside of their isolation CBD hotels by jogging through Auckland’s busy central-city streets,

Newshub journalist, and formerly with Radio NZ, Zac Fleming, uncovered the story;

.

air nz flight crew isolating in auckland cbd

.

As reported by Zac Fleming;

Air crew were originally staying at the Ramada Hotel at Auckland CBD and Manukau, but switched to the Grand Windsor on Auckland’s Queen Street on Friday.

After the switch, they were told by Air New Zealand via a staff bulletin: “As per the MoH guidelines you will be able to leave the hotel for up to 90 minutes of exercise per day.”

This means the crew returning from the US over the weekend could have checked into the Grand Windsor and then left and gone for a run through the middle of downtown Auckland.

It would not be the first time returning flight crews had been given permission  to exercise outside their isolation facilities.

From an Air New Zealand web-page dated 19 August 2020, flight crews were allowed to venture out for up to an hour each day in several “medium risk” overseas cities;

Air New Zealand has worked closely with Ministry of Health officials in implementing the measures in place today. High, medium or low risk destinations are set by the Ministry of Health and this risk matrix is reviewed regularly. Measures include:

[…]

For medium risk layovers, including Narita, Hong Kong, Shanghai

[…]

    • Air crew isolate in hotels, limiting trips outside to 1hr per 24-hour period

In a web page document dated 24 December 2020 – and which is still publicly visible – the Ministry of Health issued these guidelines for returning aircrew;.

Aircrew are only permitted to leave their place of self-isolation:

[…]

• to do any outdoor exercise (except at any shared exercise facility, such as a swimming pool

[…]

Aircrew are not permitted to leave their place of self-isolation for anything other than the reasons described above. Any time aircrew leave their place of self-isolation for these reasons, they must maintain physical distancing and wear PP Eat all times.

Moh: Requirements for air crew ordinarily resident in New Zealand to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection and transmission (24 December 2020)

Additional requirements for aircrew who travel internationally on designated ‘higher-risk’routes and for pilots undergoing flight simulator training in Australia

[…]

4. Aircrew are only permitted to leave their place of self-isolation:

[…]

• to do any outdoor exercise (except at any shared exercise facility, such as a swimming pool)

[…]

Aircrew are not permitted to leave their place of self-isolation for anything other than the reasons described above. Any time aircrew leave their place of self-isolation for these reasons, they must maintain physical distancing and wear PPE at all times.

The guidelines are complex, attempting to cater for every possible situation flight crews will experience overseas.

And it was reported on 22 January, this year;

Until Monday [January 22], [Air New Zealand] aircrew had the choice to self-isolate at home in New Zealand.

TVNZ has reported that every week about 80 pilots and cabin crew on high-risk flights are now being driven to a hotel where a private healthcare team tests them for Covid-19.

If they test negative, they can leave after 48 hours.

[…]

“We’re not going to have security on the door. We do trust the airlines to follow the rules,” Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins told 1 News.

[…]

The ministry said the hotel where the aircrew stay, which they would not name or identify its whereabouts, is not managed isolation/quarantine (MIQ) facility.

However, aircrew are required to follow isolation requirements, which includes staying in their rooms until the result of their test is available. Meals are delivered to their rooms during this time and they are permitted to exercise outside provided they maintain social distancing and wear personal protective equipment (PPE).

[…]

1 News said it had been told some cabin crew were suspected of breaking self-isolation at home and [Minister Chris] Hipkins was aware of the claims.

“It’s difficult to respond to anecdotes rather than actual evidence that people haven’t been following the rules,” he said.

It was then first revealed on 9 February this year that returning flight crews had switched from a Manukau isolation hotel, to the Grand Windsor in down Auckland’s Queen Street;

Air New Zealand crew were allowed to leave a quarantine hotel to exercise on the streets of Auckland’s CBD for nearly three weeks, Newshub can reveal.

Up until three weeks ago, the airline’s crew could isolate at home for 48 hours after an overseas trip, but on January 18 it became mandatory for crews who had been to the United States to isolate in hotels – because it’s deemed a high-risk country.

Despite the ‘high-risk’, Ministry of Health guidelines were still allowing them to leave their hotel to exercise for up to 90 minutes a day.

The Ministry of Health says it was only aware of and gave guidance for Air New Zealand staff to leave a hotel in Manukau to exercise, and its guidelines did not allow for staff to leave a CBD hotel to exercise.

Air crew were originally staying at the Ramada Hotel at Auckland CBD and Manukau, but switched to the Grand Windsor on Auckland’s Queen Street on Friday.

After the switch, they were told by Air New Zealand via a staff bulletin: “As per the MoH guidelines you will be able to leave the hotel for up to 90 minutes of exercise per day.”

This means the crew returning from the US over the weekend could have checked into the Grand Windsor and then left and gone for a run through the middle of downtown Auckland.

In response, the airline’s attitude to the problem was;

AirNZ does not believe there was a problem in crew having been allowed to leave the Ramada for three weeks between January 18 and February 5.

But there clearly is a problem.

In March last year,  Aotearoa New Zealand moved from Level Alert 2  to Level Alert 4 within four days. On 11.59pm on 25 March, the country was under a State of Emergency.

However, nature and the viruses it produces wait for no-one and our rules do not not apply. On the same day Aotearoa New Zealand moved to Level Alert 2 on 21 March, a wedding and reception at Bluff was held the same day. An Air NZ flight crewmember attended – a person infected with covid19.

Air NZ issued a comment at the time;

“Air New Zealand’s employee, as all operating cabin crew, adhered to the Ministry of Health’s guidance which includes hygiene and PPE measures.”

The “Bluff Cluster“, as it became known, resulted in 98 people becoming infected, including one fatality. (Note: this blogger does not attribute any blame to the AirNZ flight crew member, who was following rules at the time. The entire country had yet to learn the lesson that covid19 was about to teach us.)

Eight months later, another Air NZ flight crew member was found to be infected;

Air New Zealand is investigating after one of its crew members tested positive for Covid-19 in China.

The staff member tested negative to the virus in New Zealand on November 18 but on arrival in Shanghai on November 22 returned a positive test.

Air New Zealand said the person was well and had no symptoms of Covid-19 – all other crew have returned negative results.

Other cases followed;

.

air nz

.

By 22 April, Air NZ confirmed that thirty of it’s workers had been infected with the virus.

The cry for more stringent  testing and isolation protocols came from Air NZ staff themselves;

.

Covid-19 testing, isolation needs urgent attention – Air NZ staff

19 August 2020

Air New Zealand staff say there are a multitude of loopholes in the airline’s border controls – and Covid-19 testing and isolation requirements need urgent attention.

The Health Minister today met with Air New Zealand to discuss ways to tighten Covid-19 restrictions, after saying he was concerned with their procedures.

While returning travellers must undergo strict 14-day isolation requirements, the air crews bringing them home are largely exempt.

One person working on Air New Zealand’s international flights told Checkpoint there had been unease for sometime among crews about the current rules, which mean only those returning from America are required to self-isolate, have a Covid-19 test on day two and continue to self-isolate until that test comes back negative.

“I think there’s a multitude of loopholes, and some of them are due to the way the airline operates but also unfortunately, I believe that the loopholes and the vulnerabilities at the border, are due to the way things have been designed by Ministry of Health rules.”

He recently returned from a long haul flight which was not to America, so he is not required to self isolate.

“However, I’m doing that, because… it’s the right thing to do. So I am managing the quarantine at home.

“But many crew have difficulty with that, they might have flatmates or they might have the situation so that they cannot physically isolate at home without putting people at risk.”

.

Air NZ crew remain at risk while they are not required to isolate for 14 days, as are all other Returnees and essential workers permitted to enter the country. Air NZ management state that there are not sufficient crew to staff aircraft  if they were isolated for the full two weeks.

Instead, if air crew are returning from high-risk destinations such as Los Angeles, they are required to self-isolate in a hotel for only 48 hours;

One staff member has told Newshub the airline is putting “profit before people” and staff are “afraid” as a result.

[…]

Air NZ crew returning to Aotearoa have to enter managed isolation, just like the passengers they are transporting, but are allowed to leave if they return a negative test after 48 hours.

However, crew on the domestic MIQ flights are only required to wear standard facemasks, and aren’t isolated or tested for the virus once they finish their shift.

Once the MIQ flight is over, the domestic crew is then stood down for a period of 48 hours.

Air NZ’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Ben Johnston confirmed that while the crew aren’t allowed to work in the air for that period, they are free to do what they want.

However, any shortage of air crew can be laid fairly and squarely at the feet of Air NZ management:

Around 380 of the cabin crew on the 787s are being made redundant...

“There are people in the quarantine facilities right now so pretty much on the day they get out of that two week quarantine will then be made redundant, so this is the last two weeks of their job at Air New Zealand is sitting inside a hotel waiting to see if they’ve got Covid.”

This has impacted on other higher-risk Air NZ flights requiring volunteer crews;

Some of those hotels are located in Rotorua, Wellington or Christchurch and to get to them, the returnees fly out of Auckland on flights including specially chartered Air New Zealand turboprop services.

Despite working alongside the same inbound international passengers as their long-haul colleagues, the crew on the turboprop domestic flights aren’t protected by the same restrictions or protocols as those who work on flights from overseas.

Air NZ crew returning to Aotearoa have to enter managed isolation, just like the passengers they are transporting, but are allowed to leave if they return a negative test after 48 hours.

However, crew on the domestic MIQ flights are only required to wear standard facemasks, and aren’t isolated or tested for the virus once they finish their shift.

[…]

The MIQ flights were originally staffed on a voluntary basis. But due to the health risks and the likelihood of earning less money, many Air NZ staff have declined to work on the special flights.

[…]

In an email to staff that has been seen by Newshub, Air NZ said the reason the flights would now be rostered like any other flight was because they were running out of volunteers.

“While we have always been supportive of these flights being crewed on a volunteer basis, the challenge we now have with only having a limited amount of crew volunteering, means that potentially some of these crew would lose overnight duties and the associated allowances,” the email reads.

However there have also been alleged instances of staff breaches of strict covid protocols;

Air New Zealand says it’s investigating after allegations a flight attendant breached Level 3 lockdown to fly as a passenger from Auckland to Wellington.

A former Air New Zealand flight attendant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told 1 NEWS multiple complaints have been made to the airline after a flight attendant allegedly flew from Auckland to Wellington on August 15th to visit a friend.

Level 3 rules stipulate people leaving Auckland should only be doing so under very specific circumstances, for example doing essential work, or returning home.

The former flight attendant said she and some current staff are “disgusted” by the alleged behaviour.

“She had disclosed to operating crew on the flight NZ691 on 15 August that she was flying down to operate a duty however the crew checked the passenger manifest and noticed she was on leisure travel.”

“I am disgusted at this abuse of privilege at putting others at risk when many Aucklanders and New Zealanders are working so hard to abide by lockdown.”

“It makes me so sad as I know many fellow crew who have lost their job and would never even consider abusing power as she has and putting our national carriers reputation at a huge risk.”

Bearing in mind that isolation for returning air crews is not as lengthy as other Returnees, and essential workers permitted to enter the country, it came as a shock that Air NZ had changed it’s isolation facility from Manukau to central Auckland;

Some Air New Zealand crew members arriving back in New Zealand are isolating at Auckland’s Hotel Grand Windsor [on Queen Street, downtown Auckland], with taxpayers footing the bill.

[…]

New Zealand-based aircrew arriving into the country from “higher risk” Covid-19 destinations as part of their work duties are required to enter 48 hours’ self-isolation at a hotel. They must return a negative test before they can leave isolation.

San Francisco and Los Angeles are currently classed as “higher risk” routes, while deaths from Covid-19 in the US exceed 450,000.

Around 70 pilots and 18 cabin crew return each week from these destinations, an Air New Zealand spokeswoman said.

[…]

Air New Zealand began using this facility on February 5 as its previous hotel couldn’t accommodate the number of crew required to isolate under new health guidelines.

Meanwhile, changes have been made after it was revealed by Newshub that Air New Zealand crew were able to leave an isolation hotel to exercise on the streets of Auckland’s CBD for almost three weeks.

The guidance given to crew has since been clarified, with the crew advised to stay inside and spare rooms at the Grand Windsor being transformed into gyms.

The Ministry of Health was unaware of the  change in isolation facilities until the media began asking questions;

Newshub can reveal the Ministry of Health (MoH) had no idea our highest-risk airline crew had stayed at a hotel in the middle of Auckland’s CBD until we reported it last week.

Air New Zealand didn’t tell the Ministry the high-risk crew were there – so the Ministry thought they were staying in Manukau and near the airport.

[…]

“That clearly imposes risk of transmission,” University of Otago epidemiologist Dr Michael Baker told Newshub.

[…]

“This current system seems to have these major weaknesses in terms of people being allowed out to exercise during that period,” [Dr Michael Baker] says.

“We need them to keep flying so we’re working very closely with them to make sure they can keep flying,” Hipkins adds.

As pointed out above, Air NZ’s isolation hotel was the Ramada. A second hotel remains un-named, and its location unknown. In an email to this blogger on 17 February, Air NZ Communications (public relations) confirmed;

Air New Zealand aircrew were previously using two hotels in Manukau to complete hotel self-isolation after returning from high risk destinations such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Attempts by this blogger to uncover the name  of the other airport have been unsuccessful, with strong secrecy surrounding it’s location. The oft-quoted reason has been fears that isolation hotels used by airlines would be harassed by a mob or that the privacy of airline crews somehow threatened. However this has not been the case of the new isolation facility at Hotel Grand Windsor in Auckland CBD. Nor has this been “an issue” for Returnees and essential workers granted entry visas.

In the same email, the AirNZ Comms spokesperson said;

Under the MoH guidance our crew completing hotel self-isolation after returning from a high-risk destination are unable to leave the hotel premises to exercise. Instead, aircrew have been provided an area within the hotel to get fresh air and complete low impact exercise – they are required to book the space to ensure they can achieve physical distancing and wear masks while they exercise.

Air New Zealand aircrew were previously using two hotels in Manukau to complete hotel self-isolation after returning from high risk destinations such as Los Angeles and San Francisco. Under the previous health order aircrew were permitted to leave hotel premises for a short period to exercise provided they wore a mask and physically distanced.

Air NZ flight crew are no longer permitted to leave their isolation facility.

As at publication of this story, an email to Minister Chris Hipkins has not received a response (aside from an automated acknowledgement). In the email, this blogger requested the location of any isolation facility/ies used by Air NZ.

Why is the location of Air NZ’s isolation facilities – both past and current – a matter of interest?

The recent cluster of covid19 centers around a worker from LSG Sky Chefs, a company situated in Māngere, not far from Auckland International Airport.

The Auckland August Cluster, last year, was an outbreak of covid19 involving a worker from Americold in Mt Wellington. There is an Americold branch in Māngere near the Auckland Airport. A series of maps puts all three into context;

.

Americold:

Americold

.

LSG Skychefs

2 - Americold - LSG Skychefs

.

And Auckland International Airport:

3 - Americold - LSG Skychefs - Akld Intl Airport

.

The close proximity of Americold to Auckland International Airport could be considered a coincidence.

But add LSG Skychefs to Americold and the International Airport – and there’s a pattern.

The only two missing pieces remain;

Missing Piece 1: Is/was there a second Air New Zealand Isolation facility  within the LSG Skychefs – Americold – Auckland International Airport precinct? What was it’s location? And if it did exist; did isolating Air NZ flight crew members take their exercise outside the facility “as per the MoH guidelines you will be able to leave the hotel for up to 90 minutes of exercise per day”?

Missing Piece 2: Did an employee from Americold Mt Wellington (where covid infections were detected) have direct contact with the Māngere Branch, thereby placing themself at “Ground Zero”?

What we do know is that the “index case” of the Auckland August Cluster was a  “person in their 50s who lives in South Auckland”, according to MoH.

Americold NZ’s Managing Director, Richard Winnall, insisted that the “Index Case” man’s position at the company meant he did not leave the office and he had not been in contact with employees at any of the three other local branches in Auckland, according to an ODT report.

And yet, “Index Case” contracted the virus from someone.

There has been suggestion that the strain of covid (B.1.1.7) detected in the worker at LSG Skychefs may have been infected by a Returnee who had a similar strain and passed through a MIQ facility in December last year. Whilst Dr Bloomfield did not outright dismiss the possibility, he thought it unlikely;

“Whether there was a potential link from that case through one of the guests who may have left through to our cases that we found on the weekend seems very unlikely because of the time period and what would need to have happened to create that epidemiological link while at the same time we were finding no other cases out in the community.”

Instead, Dr Bloomfield suggested;

“The airport precinct seems the most likely route of infection of our original case and we just need to get to the bottom of how she may have been exposed… “

Though the worker was near the “airport precinct”, she apparently had no direct proximity with crew, Returnees, or other travellers;

The LSG Sky Chefs employee works in a team of nine in the company’s Māngere catering and laundry facility.

She is responsible for washing and ironing linen, napkins, blankets and sheets from incoming flights.

Despite earlier suggestions, it has been clarified the woman does not handle international aircrew’s uniforms. She also has no face-to-face contact with crew or travellers, nor access to the airport.

Which, if true, would suggest that if the worker did not place herself into a risky situation – then someone else was in proximity to her.

It is a fact that Air NZ flight crew are not required to isolate for 14 days as are Returnees, sports people, entertainers, or essential workers. They are only required to “return a negative test after 48 hours”.

University of Otago Medical School epidemiologist, Sir David Skegg, has questioned reliance on the 48 hour test;

Of course a single negative test does not prove that a person is not infected, especially early in the course of their illness.”

Dr Ashley Bloomfield also admitted that tersting was not 100% reliable;

“First of all because the tests do have a false negative rate of somewhere around 20 to 30 percent but also because it’s part of our departure planning for people to confirm that they don’t have the virus.”

False negative results have been reported on the Ministry of Health website. On 20 September last year;’

The second imported case reported today is a man in his 20s who arrived from India via Singapore on September 12. He returned a negative test for COVID-19 around day 3 of his stay in managed isolation at the Grand Millennium. The man was moved to the Auckland quarantine facility as a close contact of a confirmed case, retested, and has returned a positive result. 

Had this man been an Air NZ flight crew member, he would have been tested on Day Two of his isolation. If a negative result returned, as above, he would have been allowed to return to the community.

It would be interesting to know how many false negative returns are made after Day Three of Returnees in MIQ.

On the latest LSG Sky Chefs cluster,  Sir David Skeggs suggested;

“I think the most likely thing, and obviously this is speculation, is that this woman was infected by one of her colleagues at work who has been going airside … and perhaps was in contact with someone who in transit who was infectious but wouldn’t have been tested here in New Zealand.

“But, of course, if it was someone passing through the airport, we may never find a link with the original case.”

He added;

“I don’t think we should see this as a surprise, I’ve been saying this all along. There will be more lockdowns in 2021 I’m afraid.” 

The last two cases have proven Sir David correct. But more troubling is that the outbreaks all seem to involve Auckland International Airport directly or (as in Americold’s case) indirectly.

The government’s decision to exclude AirNZ from quarantining airflight crews for the full 14 days – which Dr Bloomfield has described as “The Gold Standard” – seems to fly in the face of the Ministry’s own pronouncements.

It is obvious that Air NZ has been allowed to operate withouit the restrictions faced by other industries. Especially those industries clamouring to bring essential workers into the country.

It should be remembered that Air NZ is currently 52% owned by the government. There would be disastrous repercussions if it collapsed because it could no longer operate with even minimum profits.

Executive Director of Board of Airline Representatives New Zealand (BARNZ), Justin Tighe-Umbers, may have been speaking on behalf of the government when he made it clear where his priorities lay;

Executive director Justin Tighe-Umbers says New Zealanders shouldn’t be fearful of the risk from air crew, but should be worried about the economy.

“They should be worried about the economic shock if airlines pull out of the country should conditions become too stringent for them to operate.”

The Ministry of Health was even more explicit in government support for unrestricted air travel;

Because of the importance of maintaining international air routes, New Zealand-based international air crew are mostly exempt from a 14 day isolation or quarantine period as long as they meet certain conditions – both in flight and during layovers

Unfortunatelty, Air NZ’s privileged position  to avoid full quarantine for it’s flightcrews – even as it made hundreds of it’s staff redundant – may be a cost borne by the rest of this country’s businesses and workers who lose their jobs.

Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins may have been uncannily prescient last year when he said;

“I’m meeting with Air New Zealand today to make sure that that’s as tight as a drum. I’m not 100 per cent convinced that it is at the moment. I’m going to be absolutely boring into that. There’s no time for rest here. I’ve been doing this job for seven weeks. Every single day I’ve woken up thinking about Covid-19.”

If the next outbreak of covid19 is in the same area as Auckland International Airport, Americold, and LSG Sky Chefs, the the conclusion will be inevitable: there is a gap in our borders.

A gap big enough to fly an airplane through. A plane with a koru on it’s tail.

.

Additional Notes

COVID-19: Aviation sector

12 Feb (page up-dated 13 Feb)

The COVID-19 Public Health Response (Required Testing) Order 2020 requires routine testing of specified aviation workers for COVID-19.

You are required to continue testing once every 7 days if you are:

    • Aircrew members

You are required to continue testing once every 14 days if you are:

    • Persons who spend more than 15 minutes in enclosed spaces on board aircraft that arrives from location outside New Zealand
    • Airside government officials including (without limitation) personnel from Immigration New Zealand, New Zealand Customs Service, Aviation Security Service, or Ministry for Primary Industry
    • Airside district health board workers
    • Airside retail, food, and beverage workers
    • Airside workers handling baggage trolleys used by international arriving or international transiting passengers
    • Airside airline workers who interact with passengers
    • Airside airport workers who interact with passengers
    • Airside cleaning workers
    • All landside workers who interact with international arriving or international transiting passengers

Workers can be exempt if an aircraft has not arrived at the affected airport from a location outside New Zealand for a period of at least 14 consecutive days. 

[…]

Because of the importance of maintaining international air routes, New Zealand-based international air crew are mostly exempt from a 14 day isolation or quarantine period as long as they meet certain conditions – both in flight and during layovers.

The Minister of Health has agreed that this exemption to the Air Border Order now includes non-operating air crew returning to New Zealand on a flight after performing in-flight duties (repositioning crew).

[…]

The Director-General has now designated Los Angeles and San Francisco as higher risk routes.  This designation is available on the New Zealand Gazette website

[…]

Because of the importance of maintaining international air routes, New Zealand-based international air crew are mostly exempt from a 14 day isolation or quarantine period as long as they meet certain conditions – both in flight and during layovers.

.

.

.

References

Newshub:  Coronavirus – Air NZ crews allowed to leave quarantine for exercise in Auckland CBD

Newshub: Ministry of Health had no idea Air NZ’s highest-risk crew were staying in Auckland CBD hotel

Air New Zealand: Air New Zealand provides clarity on safety precautions for staff

MoH: Requirements for aircrew ordinarily resident in New Zealand to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection and transmission

NZ Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus – International Air New Zealand aircrew must now isolate in hotels

Stuff media: Coronavirus – Air NZ steward linked to Bluff wedding cluster ‘deeply upset’

Scoop media: Nation Steps Up To COVID-19 Alert Level 2

RNZ: Coronavirus – Covid-19 updates in NZ and around the world on 25 March

NZ Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus: -Air NZ steward ‘deeply upset’ by Bluff coronavirus outbreak

Ministry of Health: COVID-19 – Source of cases – Cluster Details

Stuff media: Covid-19 – Air New Zealand crew isolating after testing positive in China

Newshub:  COVID-19 – Air New Zealand crew member who tested positive visited six Auckland shops

NZ Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus – Eight Air New Zealand staff test positive for the virus

NZ Herald: Air New Zealand air crew member tests positive for Covid-19

ODT: Air NZ crews hoping to stall redundancies

RNZ:  Covid-19 testing, isolation needs urgent attention – Air NZ staff

Stuff media: Transit passengers and air crew are considered possible Covid-19 sources. How are they kept safe?

Newshub: Air New Zealand crew claim they’re being ‘forced’ to work on COVID-19 quarantine flights

RNZ: Covid-19 – Anxious wait for Air NZ staff in isolation

TVNZ: Air NZ investigating allegations of lockdown breach by flight attendant

NZ  Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus – Air NZ crew isolation arrangement ‘under review’

Newshub: Ministry of Health had no idea Air NZ’s highest-risk crew were staying in Auckland CBD hotel

ODT: Covid 19 – Money company, cool store at centre of outbreak

Stuff media: Covid-19 – Kiwis face months-long wait to come home as border controls are tightened

RNZ: Checkpoint – Potential Covid-19 link to MIQ weeks ago highly unlikely – officials (audio link)

RNZ: Covid-19 – LSG Sky Chefs employees ‘following all the rules’ – union

MoH: COVID-19 – Aviation sector

Wikipedia: Index Case

MoH: 4 cases of COVID-19 with unknown source

Newsroom: Questions raised over international aircrew rules

MoH: 4 new cases of COVID-19

ODT: ‘There will be more lockdowns’: Otago expert unsurprised by outbreak

MoH: COVID-19 media update, 1 July (transcript)

Air New Zealand: Frequently Asked Questions – Who owns Air New Zealand?

TVNZ: Air NZ investigating allegations of lockdown breach by flight attendant

NZ Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus – Health Minister Chris Hipkins’ concerns over airline crew coming through the border; new details of Rydges hotel case

MoH: COVID-19 – Aviation sector

Additional

The Spinoff: The ultimate guide to New Zealand quarantine and managed isolation hotels

Stuff media: Covid-19 – A guide to managed isolation hotels, and what to do if things go wrong

MIQ:  Facility locations

NZ Herald:  Auckland students fly out to Otago despite lockdown

Previous related blogposts

Life in Level 1: Reinfection – Labour’s kryptonite

Life in Level 2: The Curious Case of the Very Invisible Virus

.

.

. air nz covid Acknowledgement: Guy Body

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 24 February 2021.

.

.

= fs =

Life in Level 1: Cunning Plans, Unanswered Questions

.

.

The last 24 hours in Aotearoa’s New Zealand’s politics has provided more drama than a week’s worth of “Shortie Street” episodes combined and binge-watched.

It began approximately around 5.30  last night (7 July) with a disclosure by Clutha-Southland MP, Hamish Walker  that he had leaked a list of eighteen covid19-infected Returnees names and details to three media outlets. (None of the three media companies, to their credit, released a single piece of personal info from the list.)

As an explanation, Mr Walker said he released the names, ages, and other details of the eighteen infected Returnees to reject accusations of racism and to prove his assertion ;

“These people are possibly heading for Dunedin, Invercargill and Queenstown from India, Pakistan and Korea.”

However, it was stated on RNZ’s Morning Report (8 July) that the List proved no such thing (@4.33).

Mr Walker then offered another explanation;

“I did this to expose the government’s shortcomings so they would be rectified.

The information that I received was not password protected by the government. It was not stored on a secure system where authorised people needed to log on. There was no redaction to protect patient details, and no confidentiality statement on the document.

I made serious allegations against the government’s Covid-19 response and passed on this information to prove those allegations.”

So the first explanation was to save himself from being tarred as a jingoistic racist. The subsequent  explanation was framed to sound more “noble”.

Moreover, National’s former President, Michelle Boag, gave her “explanation” that;

“I very much regret my actions and did not anticipate that Hamish would choose to send it on to some media outlets but I am grateful that the media involved have chosen not to publish the 18 names that were contained within it.”

Ms Boag also (partially) revealed how she had come into possession of the list;

“The information was made available to me in my position as then Acting CEO of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust, although it was sent to my private email address.”

Many questions remain unanswered and a full picture remains unclear:

Q1: Who sent the email to Ms Boag? Why? What other personal, confidential details has this person sent to Ms Boag or others? What access does this person have?

Q2: Is this person an employee of Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust?

Considering that ARHT has stated categorically that Ms Boag would not have had direct access to patient data, the only other possibility is a person or persons unknown supplied it to her.

Q3: Will QC Mike Heron question Ms Boag?

Q4: Will QC Mike Heron attempt to find the identity of who sent the email to Ms Boag?

Q5: Will QC Mike Heron question Hamish Walker?

Q6: Will QC Mike Heron question Todd Muller?

Q7: Will QC Mike Heron have full access to all electronic devices belonging to Mr Walker, Ms Boag, Todd Muller, and anyone else who becomes implicated in this leak? Will forensic investigation be allowed on their devices?

Q8: What (if any) was Matthew Hooton’s involvement? What did Matthew Hooton know and when?

Q9: Will QC Mike Heron investigate Mr Hooton’s electronic devices?

Q10: When did Todd Muller find out? He claimed it was Monday (6 July) “lunch time“. What did he do in the intervening 30 hours that followed, before Mr Walker went public?

Q11: Mr Muller says he does not know Mr Walker’s motivation to release the List. Why did Mr Muller not ask Mr Walker’s motivation when he spoke directly with Mr Walker on Monday?

Q12:  Was it really a “rogue operation” involving just two people? Who else knew about Ms Boag and Mr Walker’s use of the List?

Q13: What was the purpose of Ms Boag passing the list to Mr Walker? Why did she choose him? What discussion did the two have?

Ms Boag said to Stuff;

“It would be inappropriate for me to do that because I would be disclosing more details.”

So. There are “more details” she has not disclosed. What are those “details”?

Q14: If Ms Boag “did not anticipate that Hamish would choose to send it on to some media outlets” – what did she anticipate he would do with the List?

Q15: What other personal details has Ms Boag passed on in her role as acting CEO of Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust?

Q16: Why will Ms Boag and Mr Walker not front to media interviews? What do they know that remains unsaid?

Q17: What did Nikki Kaye know and when?

Q18: What prompted Mr Walker and Ms Boag to go public on 7 July? What factor(s) forced them to abandon their secrecy? Were they about to be “outed”?

There is more to this abuse of power than we have been told. The National Party damage control machine has swung into full mode and has successfully contained this outbreak of scandal.

They may be hopeless at containing viral outbreaks – but masters par excellence at managing scandals. (Perhaps because of considerable past experience.)

This is the party that thinks it is fit to govern.

ADDENDUM

According to a late evening news story on RNZ, Michelle Boag revealed the source for the List of eighteen covid19 positive Returnees. She claimed the information came from the Ministry of Health by way of emails that were regular updates sent to emergency medical services;

When she announced her involvement in the leak, Boag said she had access to the private information as the acting chief executive of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust.

She added the personal information was sent to her private email, but did not disclose who sent it – until now.

Boag told RNZ the Ministry of Health had sent daily emails to her private email, which included the sensitive details of the country’s Covid-19 cases.

Boag couldn’t explain why it was sent to her private email, but suspected it was because she was only temporarily in the role of chief executive.

The government has already confirmed emergency services were regularly sent the details of the country’s active cases, so they could take the proper precautions if responding to a call-out where someone with Covid-19 was present.

If this is true, then this makes her role in this scandal even worse.

The information would have been sent to her in good faith by the Ministry of Health. She was in a position of trust and privilege.

The information would have been intended to be used by emergency services in case their personnel ever had to attend an incident involving covid19-positive patients.

Sending helicopter medics blindly to a situation where covid19 was present would have endangered their lives and those around them.

For Ms Boag to wilfully mis-use this information for nefarious political purposes will destroy her career forever.

.

.

.

.

References

RNZ:  How the Hamish Walker Covid-19 patient detail leak played out

Stuff media: National MP Hamish Walker admits passing on leaked Covid-19 patient info from former party president Michelle Boag

Scoop:  Press Statement From Michelle Boag – 7 July 2020

Mediaworks/Newshub: Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust says Michelle Boag ‘never’ had access to COVID-19 data

RNZ: Todd Muller ‘hugely angry’ after Walker/Boag leak   (alt.link)

RNZ: National Party board to meet about Hamish Walker (alt.link)

Stuff: National MP Hamish Walker admits passing on leaked Covid-19 patient info from former party president Michelle Boag

RNZ: Covid-19 privacy breach info came from Health Ministry, Michelle Boag says

Twitter: Colin Jackson – 7 July 2020

Additional

RNZ:  National’s attacks not what we need right now

Previous related blogposts

Life in Lock Down: Day 2 of Level 3

Life in Level 1: Reinfection – Labour’s kryptonite

Life in Level 1: Reinfection – No, Dr Bloomfield!

Life in Level 1: The Taxpayer’s Coin

.

.

.

Acknowledgement: Sharon Murdoch

.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 9 July 2020.

.

.

= fs =

Life in Level 1: The Taxpayer’s Coin

29 June 2020 5 comments

.

.

Plague town?

There are two things right now in Aotearoa New Zealand that are guaranteed to piss people off.

Firstly, it’s National playing silly-bugger politics with the covid-19 pandemic. This cost Simon Bridges his job as National’s Leader.

Lately, Michael Woodhouse has been playing fast and loose with revelations that he waited a day before informing the Ministry of Health (MoH) that two sisters had been allowed out of quarantine without testing. The two women later tested positive for covid-19.

Mr Woodhouse chose first to talk over the tip-off from his source with his Party leadership. Later, after some strategy had no doubt been engineered (with Matthew Hooton’s involvement?), Mr Woodhouse went public.

In his interview with RNZ’s Suzie Ferguson, Mr Woodhouse was at pains to point out that it was not his job to inform MoH or the government that two untested returnees were travelling the length of the North Island and who later tested positive for covid-19. Evidently, the risk that the pair could have infected others; put people in hospital; potentially killed someone; and further harmed the fragile state of our economy – was not a matter worthy of consideration for Mr Woodhouse who has aspirations to one day be a government Minister.

As he put it so eloquently to Ms Ferguson;

“I’m not part of the cheerleading team.”

Mr Woodhouse criticised Health Minister David Clark as being “completely disengaged from his role [as Minister of Health]” and demanded his resignation.

The same charge could equally be levelled at Mr Woodhouse for playing politics with a disease that has destroyed so many lives.

It’s a moot point which is worse; incompetence or politicising a lethal pandemic.

The second thing that has roused the ire of New Zealanders is the constant flow of media stories of a small number of returnees who have whinged at aspects of their quarantine, or expected special treatment to attend family members who are near death, or funerals. (And I write this as someone who understands all too well what it feels like to face the ghastly frustration of seeing a loved one dying and not being able to do a damn thing about it…)

.

.

Or the non-stop media stories of businesspeople who demanded exemptions and wanted to continue trading during Level 4 and Level 3 lockdown .

Nothing quite says “Batshit Crazy” as a weight-loss company  so full of it’s own self-importance that they think they are an essential service during a global pandemic;

.

.

Because if you’re on your death-bed from covid-19 – about to meet your Maker – no doubt losing a few kilos is first and foremost on your mind…

Three months later, and we have a new contender for Self Important Entitlement: Scenic Hotel Group’s managing director, Brendan Taylor.

Mr Taylor was apoplectic that *HIS* town, Rotorua, would be hosting additional quarantine facilities;

“It is a concern to a lot of New Zealanders travelling as to which hotels are being used as isolation hotels and which ones aren’t.

Rotorua and Taupō have been doing really well with weekend business so I would’ve thought Rotorua would probably start to suffer a bit with accommodation being turned into isolation hotels.”

Yes, Mr Taylor was mightily concerned that “Rotorua and Taupō have been doing really well with weekend business so […] would’ve thought Rotorua would probably start to suffer a bit with accommodation being turned into isolation hotels”.

So no concerns then about pandemics? Or re-infection if we don’t begin to get our act together with stringest quarantine procedures. Or the lives that could be lost. Or that returnees were our fellow Kiwis.

Mr Taylor’s point-of-view was that hotels were “doing really well with weekend business“.

That’s not all he’s done “really well with“. Interestingly, Mr Taylor has benefitted fairly well accepting the taxpayer’s coin;

.

.

Thus far, Mr Taylor’s company has taken $1,512,379.20 of the taxpayer’s coin for wage subsidies. That’s our taxes going to his company to pay his staff’s wages.

The least he could do is not whinge  and understand that this government is doing what it must to assist New Zealanders to return to this country safely, and in a way that does not bring contagion back into our community.

Because it may have escaped Mr Taylor’s attention that if covid-19 returns and the second wave is even more disastrous for our economy – he may not have much a hotel chain left to be Managing Director of.

Instead of  being self-indulgent, perhaps he could return the generosity of the taxpayer by asking; “what can we do to assist”?

As for Radio NZ which carried the story – this is not the first tale of self-indulgent, woe-is-me, “grief journalism” they’ve engaged in. Or badly mis-represented a story.

In this case, the headline carried the ominous warning;

.

.

Except… there was no reference within the text of the story to any “potential travellers” being “wary”.

Or “weary”, as their Twitter version suggested;

.

.

In fact there was no mention of “potential travellers” full stop. Just the “reckons” of one businessman more concerned  with “doing really well with weekend business” than his fellow countrymen and women.

One could also question RNZ using the phrase;

“As the school holidays approach there is concern people may put off plans to travel to Rotorua where two hotels were commandeered for quarantining returning Kiwis at the weekend.”

This is immature tabloid journalism and not the standard we expect from RNZ.

The commentary after RNZ posted a link to the above story on Twitter was scathing. One could have been forgiven that people were commenting on the latest confused ramblings from Mike Hosking, Kate Hawkesby, or Sean Plunkett, and not this country’s most respected media outlet.

Not good, RNZ:

D Minus. Can do much better if they apply themselves.

Pay-To-Stay?

Today (23 June), the government floated the ‘kite’ of demanding co-payments from returnees to Aotearoa New Zealand. The co-payment would be charged for their 14 day quarantine;

“What we need to consider as a government is the fairness of a potential co-payment system, so we need to factor in a whole range of issues and keep in mind we cannot stop New Zealanders from coming back to the country where they are a citizen, and so that will have to underpin all of our decisions.” – PM Ardern

Human Rights lawyer, Michael Bott, was damning of the suggestion;

“I would say, potentially, it’s in breach of the Bill of Rights Act, because you have a right of entry in terms of your country and to impose a cost on New Zealand citizens who are overseas and wish to come back home… is something which may be considered disproportionate and severe.”

Put in plain english, this is a really terrible idea. It is the sort of money-grubbing we might expect from a National government  prepared to put money ahead of the well-being of our fellow citizens. This would be Labour’s moment equivalent to National raising prescription charges in 2012 from $3 to $5.

This would be the antithesis of the positive message that PM Ardern has steadfastly maintained these last few months;

.

.

Yes, we are all in this together. The quarantining of hundreds – thousands – of returnees is not for their personal benefit. A postcard to Aunt Nellie showing their hotel room doesn’t quite have the same romanticism as a beach at Bali.

This benefits us all, from Cape Reinga to Stewart Island; the entire Team Five Million. We all stand to gain from returnees quarantining.

Just as returnees benefitted from the entire country going into lock down for six weeks.

To expect them to pay – even only a portion – would be like expecting people to pay for their own covid-19 testing. The idea would be ludicrous because when it comes to an infectious micro-organism there is no “Us” and “Them”. There is only “We”. As in, we’re all in this together.

I have no idea who came up with this short-sighted notion. It is quite mad. And I am surprised that it would pass PM Ardern’s “sniff test”.

I hope it is binned. Because there is nothing remotely kind about it.

.

As at 23 June 2020:

Confirmed covid19 cases: 1,165

Active cases: 10

Cases in ICU: nil

Number of deaths: 22

.

.

.

References

RNZ:  National Party on managed isolation bungle  (audio)

RNZ:  Travellers ‘shocked’ at last minute transfer to quarantine in Rotorua

Mediaworks/Newhub:  Kiwi in quarantine pleads with Government for right to visit dying mother

Mediaworks/Newhub:  Coronavirus – Kiwi woman desperate to see her dying mother denied isolation exemption

RNZ:  Covid-19 – NZer in quarantine appeals to government compassion to see dying wife

NZ Herald:  Covid 19 coronavirus – Kiwi in LA begs for quarantine exemption to see dying dad in Christchurch

NZ Herald:  Covid 19 coronavirus – Jenny Craig defends stance as essential service

RNZ: Isolation hotels making potential travellers wary

Work and Income:  Covid-19 Wage Subsidy Employer Search

Twitter: RNZ –  Isolation hotels making potential travellers weary – 23 June 2020

RNZ:  Cabinet to consider co-payment scheme for new arrivals

Stuff: Prescription cost to rise to help pay for Budget

ODT:  ‘We’re all in this together’

Ministry of Health:  Two new cases of COVID-19

Other Blogposts

The Standard:  Responsible politics verses Gotcha politics

The Daily Blog: Snakes and Mirrors – National Sat On Covid-19 Infection Information For Hours Before Dropping Political Bombshell In Parliament

Previous related blogposts

The Warehouse – where everyone gets a virus

Life in Lock Down: Day 28 – An Open Letter to Prime Minister Ardern

Life in Lock Down: Day 2 of Level 3

Life in Level 1: Reinfection – Labour’s kryptonite

Life in Level 1: Reinfection – No, Dr Bloomfield!

 

.

Acknowledgement: Rod Emmerson

.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 24 June 2020.

.

.

= fs =

Life in Level 1: Reinfection – No, Dr Bloomfield!

26 June 2020 5 comments

.

 

 

.

20 June

The bad news: Aotearoa New Zealand has two new cases of covid-19.

The good news: the two cases were picked up at an Auckland quarantine facility.

The terrifying news: had the story of the two women leaving quarantine without testing not broken four days ago – this couple and their child were due to depart the facility;

The couple returned to New Zealand on a repatriation flight from Delhi – AI-1306 – and arrived on 5 June. They also have an infant who has not been tested due to age.

The couple showed no symptoms and returned a positive result after being tested on day 12 of isolation.

They were tested on Day 12. Up until now testing had not been done or was haphazard.

The infuriating news: Dr Ashley Bloomfield needs to stop bullshitting us. At today’s presser, he made this statement. See if you can pick up the half-truth:

.

.

@ 4:44 – 5:52

“Just a good time to remind everybody that we were always expecting to get new cases at our borders, as Kiwis return home from overseas.

And I guess the comment here is, we had several weeks where we didn’t get any cases at the border and now we are. And I’d like to reflect on the reasons for that.

First of all, we are seeing an increasing number of Kiwis returning to the country from around the globe.

The second is, just to reiterate the point that I have made, there is still a global pandemic raging offshore.

And only overnight the Director General of the World Health Organisation noted that the global pandemic is accelerating, with Thursday this week being over 150,000 new cases worldwide.

So there is an increased likelihood we will see Kiwis coming back, especially from countries where there are high rates of infection, like India. We also earlier in the week of course had those two Kiwis who’d returned from the UK where they’ve got high rate of infection.

So this explains why we are now detecting these cases at the border.”

Dr Bloomfield’s assertion that new cases of covid19 are being picked up because “we are seeing an increasing number of Kiwis returning to the country from around the globe” is not the reason.

The reason infection is being detected is because testing is now being carried out in earnest.

If personnel at quarantine facilities were still half-heartedly (or not at all) implementing testing protocols, all three recent cases (one returnee from Pakistan, and the couple from India) would likely have departed their respective facilities without having been tested.

They would be in our community – along with their viral “passengers”.

In fact, Dr Bloomfield may have revealed the magnitude of the potential crisis we might be facing;

.

.

2400 people who had left a managed isolation facility but had not had a test“.

I fear our good luck is about to run out.

.

As at 20 June 2020:

Confirmed & Probable covid19 cases: 1,159

Active cases: 5

Cases in ICU: nil

Number of deaths: 22

.

.

.

References

RNZ:  Two new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand (alt link to video)

NZ Herald:  Covid 19 coronavirus – New arrivals to New Zealand told swab testing is not compulsory

NZ Herald:  Covid 19 coronavirus – NZ has another new case – a man in his 60s in a quarantine facility in Auckland

Ministry of Health: Two new cases of COVID-19

Previous related blogposts

The Warehouse – where everyone gets a virus

Life in Lock Down: Day 28 – An Open Letter to Prime Minister Ardern

Life in Lock Down: Day 2 of Level 3

Reinfection: Labour’s kryptonite

.

.

.

.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 21 June 2020.

.

.

= fs =

Life in Level 1: Reinfection – Labour’s kryptonite

.

.

17 June

Labour’s “dream run” of being a competent manager during the Covid19 Crisis may just have come to a crashing end.

Recent revelations that some of the quarantine facilities (hotels converted to the task) have been shambolically mis-managed has raised alarm bells and widespread criticism;

.

Travellers mingling with passengers from other flights

.

A day later, on 12 June, former Police Commissioner, Mike Bush – in charge of the Government’s Covid-19 operational taskforce – stated that he was not satisfied with the lax procedures in the TVNZ story and promised to tighten adherence to protocols;

“That’s not good enough. We’ve got to keep those people safe … We need to get that right.

Walking groups have gone. Some hotels can bus people to another location. For others we’ve found another location on site where people can ensure that they’re not near any other members of the public.

We will put a new practice in place to make sure people on day one don’t mingle with people who have been there a lot longer. That is a difficult process.

The smoking area, we’re trying to make improvements there so we don’t have people there from day one with people from day 12.”

He specifically added:

“Now we’re in Alert Level 1, we will be having a new testing regime so people will be tested on day three and then on day 12.”

Yet, we now know that the two women who drove from Auckland to Wellington a day later, on 13 June,  were not tested.

When TVNZ ran the story above, I guessed even then that our lax border controls and complacent, half-hearted, quarantining would not end well;

.

.

None of this was unknown to us. We knew flight crews were exempt from mandatory 14 day quarantining – despite travelling to covid-19 hotspots around the world.

This should not have surprised officials or Government ministers. As far back as April – two months ago – it was reported that isolation procedures at these quarantine facilities were being flouted;

.

.

Which makes this random comment I posted on Twitter, on 15 Junethe day before the story broke in the media – eerily prescient;

.

.

Little did I realise that my remark about “inept quarantining leading to another C19 infection in Aotearoawould become an unpleasant reality and headline news the very next day;

.

.

Minister of Health and serial screw-up, Minister David Clark, reassured the public on RNZ’s Checkpoint that evening (16 June);

“They followed all of the instructions given to them and so they haven’t come into contact with a wider group of people … but nonetheless I am disappointed to learn they were out of the facility without testing negative first, because that was my understanding that that would have happened.”

According to Dr Bloomfield, speaking on RNZ’s Morning Report on 17 June;

“There was a, an agreed plan in place. As part of the approval process for the compassionate exemption, and that included for the travel arrangements.

So they had a private vehicle dropped to the hotel. They then drove together all the way to Wellington and had no contact with anybody else during that trip. And, uh, they didn’t use any public facilities and they also have been just with a single family member since they arrived in the Wellington region.”

I call bollicks to both statements.

Minister Clark assures the public that the two women “followed all of the instructions given to them and so they haven’t come into contact with a wider group of people“.

Unless he – or a Ministry staffer was travelling in the same car – how on Earth could he possibly know that they “followed all of the instructions given to them and so they haven’t come into contact with a wider group of people“?! [We now know they didn’t.]

On RNZ’s Morning Report, on 17 June, Minister Clark alluded to the fact that contact tracing was well under way, and he was “waiting for data overnight“.  He admitted that he “needed to know how many people” [had to be traced].

That clearly conflicts  with his  assurance the previous day that the two women “followed all of the instructions given to them and so they haven’t come into contact with a wider group of people“.

At least one of those women was infectious [as at 17 June].

We may see the resurgence of clusters potentially from Auckland to Wellington. It doesn’t get any worse than this.

Even more problematic is Dr Bloomfield’s assurance that “they then drove together all the way to Wellington and had no contact with anybody else during that trip. And, uh, they didn’t use any public facilities“.

Again, how does Dr Bloomfield know for certain that neither women “had no contact with anybody else“? Contact tracing is already under way – so clearly that must have been in contact with someone?

It also defies credulity that on a ten hour-plus drive from Auckland to Wellington that neither women “didn’t use any public facilities“?!

Modern vehicles have developed considerably since their early fuel-guzzling predecessors and are more efficient. A vehicle could make the Auckland-Wellington trip without having to re-fuel along the way.

But not so human beings. We’ve hardly changed much over the last 200,000 years.

I doubt very many human beings could make a ten to twelve hour drive without having to stop along the way to use public toilet facilities, at least once.

Dr Bloomfield should be fully aware of this – he graduated in medicine in 1990 and so should have a fairly good understanding of the workings of human plumbing.

So please Minister Clark and Dr Bloomfield: stop BSing us.

Neither of you can have any idea what those two did on their drive to Wellington.

It is inconceivable that they did not use public facilities along the way.

What about the other 200 people released from quarantine on “compassionate grounds”? Were they  tested before release?  Have they recently been re-tested?

Do we even know where they are?!

No wonder Opposition MP, Michael Woodhouse, questioned this government’s fitness to carry out health sector reforms after the Health and Disability System Review was released;

They haven’t been able to deliver anything else. I dare say a large reform of this nature is certainly beyond them.”

I’m starting to think the same thing.

Up until now, public support for this government has been stratospheric: between 80s and 90s in favourable percentage terms. But watch that support wither and fall away if – due to complacency and mis-management – the virus reappears in the community.  And watch it collapse altogether if Aotearoa New Zealand has to go back to Level Alert 3 or – Thor forbid – Level Alert 4. The public will not be happy.

Adulation can turn to animus pretty damn quickly.

When National’s Leader, Todd Muller expressed his anger;

“I’m as furious as I suspect most New Zealanders this morning.

This is clumsy and totally inappropriate when you consider what’s at stake here … we’ve spent a number of months locking our country down, we’ve got ourselves to the point where we’re Covid-free, we have systems in place that we expect to be followed and they simply weren’t.

We can’t have such a lax approach to our border when the stakes are so high.”

— he was reading the room and expressing a reaction shared by about 99% of the population. Unlike his hapless predecessor, Mr Muller got the tone 100% right. People are pissed off.

The incompetence of those managing our quarantine facilities was sheeted home when, on 17 June, Mike Bush was interviewed on RNZ’s Checkpoint. It was a class act of evasion, vagueness, buck-passing, and a startling inability to offer information to some basic questions. It reminded me of former Corrections Minister, Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga‘s inept responses when interviewed on TV3’s The Nation, in May 2015 (an interview which, coincidentally, was also done by Lisa Owen).

Minister, Lotu-Iiga‘s responses had to be heard to be believed.

Likewise, when Ms Owen kept repeatedly asking Mike Bush who was responsible for failures, he kept deflecting to Minister Clark, Director General Bloomfield, et al.

He simply could not answer Ms Owen’s questions – because he was obviously ignorant at what was going on in the quarantine facilities. Mr Bush confirmed to listeners what most New Zealanders already suspected: no one was in charge; no one knew what was going on; and the people supposedly carrying out quarantine protocols and testing were not doing their jobs.

No wonder PM Ardern has had a gutsful and appointed Air Commodore Darryn Webb to take over.

However, PM Ardern cannot simply call this colossal clusterf**k  “an unacceptable failure of the system“. Assigning responsibility to a mythical creature called “The System” is a cop-out.

It wasn’t  “the System” at fault. It wasn’t System Bush, or System Bloomfield, or System Clark, or System Ardern in charge. Human beings were in charge.

The public knows this. When “The System” is blamed, there is a collective eye-rolling of five million pairs of eye-balls. People recognise “Politician Speak” when it is fed to them.

If PM Ardern wants to engage in “Politician Speak”, that’s her mistake to make.  Up until now, she has earned the respect of the nation as a Leader, not Just A Politician. Does she really want to be seen as Just Another Politician? I would have thought that was a step down in any person’s career path.

Someone screwed up. Someone in a position of authority where they should have been doing their job. Their. One. Job.

In fact, this government’s astronomical popularity has been predicated on them doing Their One Job: guiding Team Five Million through this crisis; doing the tough calls; ensuring all our resources were targetted at containing and defeating The Enemy.

They had one job. And they’ve been shown up not to have done it very well.

Expect Labour’s popularity to take a nose-dive in the next political poll. They will have earned the bollicking that the public is about to dish out to them.

But if we’re going to dish out the Finger-Pointing Pie, there is plenty to go around.

The Mainstream Media has amplified every “human interest” story of tragedy; people returning to Aotearoa New Zealand desperate to get out of 14 day quarantining to attend to dying relatives or attend funerals. (The six people who absconded from quarantine had attended a tangi in Hamilton.)

.

.

Media amplification of these tragic stories – aka “grief journalism” – has no doubt put inordinate pressure on government ministers and Ministry staff. Whilst these stories are good click-bait and help sell advertising space (or attract listeners in RNZ’s case), they serve no other useful purpose.

Quarantines are not quarantines if people can side-step them because of tragic personal circumstances.  (And I write this knowing full well how it feels, as last year someone close to me died. The awful feeling of total helplessness cannot be adequately put into words.)

In one case, the Courts ruled to overturn a Ministry of Health decision to decline an exemption, saying;

“decisions to decline permission are on their face legally flawed” and the “exceptional” case “had the hallmarks of automatic rejection based on circumscribed criteria rather than a proper exercise of discretion.”

The media should take a long, hard look at itself and the role it played in undermining implementation of quarantine protocols.

And the Courts should decline to become involved in pandemic-control policies. Lest it need be repeating: the virus is no respecter of our human-made laws.

Next, the National Party and sundry business lobby groups with their relentless, irresponsible agitation  to move down Alert Levels and re-open our borders to foreign students, tourists, Uncle Tom Cobbly, et al;

.

.

In the case of foreign students, National is particularly strident;

.

.

Ms Kaye’s assertion that “…[National] have also proposed that education providers would handle quarantine procedures” did not age well. Four days later…

As I write this, there are over eight million confirmed covid19 cases in the world. The real figure is most likely higher as countries like Brazil have consistently under-reported their infection rate. The global death toll has passed 450,000.

That is the threat that vote-chasers in the National Party and profit-takers in the business world would expose us to.

National’s cynicism is nowhere more apparent than Opposition MP, Michael Woodhouse, who reported the case of two women leaving quarantine whilst infected with covid19 – several days after finding out from “a reliable source”.

As blogger “Mickey Savage” outlined the timeline of events in The Standard;

The timing in interesting.  According to this interview on Morning Report Woodhouse found out these details two days ago and yesterday spent time checking the veracity of the story.

He then discussed matters with his leader’s office.

He did not go to the Health Ministry and did not think he should.

He thinks this was necessary for presentation of the story.

In his view his job is not to work to improve the quarantine system but to hold the government to account and show shortcomings.

But as we are fighting a pandemic that has caused huge damage to countries overseas didn’t he have a duty to bring this information to the authorities as soon as possible?  So that these operational holes could have been filled?

I heard the interview. Mr Woodhouse did indeed insist it was not his job “to improve the quarantine system“. Also not his job to potentially save lives either, it appears.

So while National Leader Todd Muller was reflecting the anger felt by 99.99% of the country – one of his loyal MPs was reporting to him quarantine failings; potential re-infection throughout the country; and possibly ending in death – all from a “reliable source”. National Party priorities – certainly not saving lives.

But eventually, responsibility for this colossal mistake lies with those people whom we entrusted to safeguard us. We know who they are. Most have appeared nightly in our  homes; on our devices; encouraging us to do the right thing. Most New Zealanders followed their lead.

We rewarded them accordingly, singing their praises. And printing t-shirts bearing their image.

Those hymns of praise have stopped, to be replaced by the silent sound of bemusement, if not outright anger. The t-shirts may take a bit longer to sell.

The public will be in no mood to go back into any form of lock-down. In case I have to spell it out for Prime Minister Ardern; Health Minister Clark, Director General Bloomfield; Mike Bush, et al, the good will of the public has mostly evaporated. Faith has been replaced by cold fury.

The problem with being at the top? The only way from there is down.

Regardless of whether anyone takes responsibility for this failure, the ultimate decision will be taken from the hands of this government and its officials on 19 September.

As I wrote on 12 June – four days before the story of the quarantine failure broke;

.

.

As at 16 June 2020:

Current covid19 cases: 1,156

Cases in ICU: nil

Number of deaths: 22

.

.

.

References

TVNZ: Travellers mingling with passengers from other flights, members of the public during Covid-19 isolation

TVNZ: Government to make changes to managed isolation facilities following 1 NEWS investigation

Twitter: @fmacskasy – 10.44PM Jun 11, 2020

Stuff media: Covid-19 – new cases as thousands fly in from Australia, Asia, Pacific Islands and US

Mediaworks/Newshub: Father concerned after quarantined son taken for walk with person with COVID-19

Twitter: @fmacskasy – 1.41PM Jun 15, 2020

RNZ:  Covid-19 – Two new cases in New Zealand, both arrivals from UK

RNZ:  Two new Covid-19 cases in NZ visited dying parent – Bloomfield

RNZ:  Health Minister temporarily suspends compassionate exemptions from quarantine

RNZ: Covid-19 – Exemptions concerning after women test positive outside managed isolation – Baker (audio)

RNZ: No answers yet on why Covid-19 cases weren’t tested leaving isolation – Clark (audio)

The Spinoff: The face of the Covid-19 response – Who is Ashley Bloomfield?

RNZ:  Covid-19 – Exemptions concerning after women test positive outside managed isolation – Baker

Mediaworks/Newshub: Health and Disability System Review aims to end racism in New Zealand’s health sector

The Spinoff: Exclusive new poll: public support for Covid response remains sky high

TVNZ: Public sector’s reputation in NZ reaches record high amid Covid-19 crisis, survey shows

RNZ:  Government slammed after new Covid-19 cases revealed

RNZ:  Mike Bush answers questions over botched Covid-19 isolation

Frankly Speaking:  “The Nation” reveals gobsmacking incompetence by Ministers English and Lotu-Iiga

RNZ: Two new cases leaving isolation ‘an unacceptable failure of the system’ – Ardern

ODT:  Six people – not two – abscond to go to tangi

Mediaworks/Newhub:  Kiwi in quarantine pleads with Government for right to visit dying mother

Mediaworks/Newhub:  Coronavirus – Kiwi woman desperate to see her dying mother denied isolation exemption

RNZ:  Covid-19 – NZer in quarantine appeals to government compassion to see dying wife

NZ Herald:  Covid 19 coronavirus – Kiwi in LA begs for quarantine exemption to see dying dad in Christchurch

Magic Radio:  Dr Bloomfield denies ‘blanket approach’ used for quarantine exemptions despite zero approvals

Twitter: @JudithCollinsMP12:44 PM · Jun 8, 2020 – Go to level 1

Twitter: @nikkikaye – 12 June 2020 – foreign students

Worldometer: Coronavirus Covid-19 Pandemic

NZ Herald:  Covid 19 coronavirus – Brazil stops publishing number of virus deaths

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Woman in the same hotel as new coronavirus cases ‘shocked’ at finding out via Ministry of Health press conference

RNZ:  National Party on managed isolation bungle

Twitter: @fmacskasy – 9:45AM  Jun 12, 2020 – no mood to go back into lockdown

Other Blogs

The Standard:  Responsible politics verses Gotcha politics

Previous related blogposts

The Warehouse – where everyone gets a virus

Life in Lock Down: Day 28 – An Open Letter to Prime Minister Ardern

Life in Lock Down: Day 2 of Level 3

.

.

.

.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 19 June 2020.

.

.

= fs =