In a late June column I wrote about the critical importance of our country having secure and competent border procedures in place to minimise the risk of another Covid-19 outbreak. Having been assured by the Government that regular testing of frontline border workers would be carried out it is hugely disappointing to find out that this was not happening on the scale that the public understood it would be. This disconnect between the apparent expectations of Ministers and what was actually occurring is unacceptable and a huge red flag in terms of the oversight of the whole pandemic response.
Good government is about being responsible and taking responsibility and it is very clear that a more transparent and well-managed approach is needed.
The consequences of the lack of clarity around this has been considerable distress for many people across the country, the loss of 250 jobs a day, a $75 million per day cost to the Auckland economy while in lockdown and $1.6 billion more to pay for the extension of the wage subsidy across the country.
Recent figures on missed mortgage payments from the Reserve Bank show that many New Zealanders are already facing serious financial stress and this is only going to get worse due to the impact of the latest period of increased Covid-19 alert levels.
I believe that we need a dedicated Border Protection Agency to provide comprehensive oversight and management of Covid-19 at the border, as well as other public health threats. Opposition Leader Judith Collins has indicated that the establishment of such an agency would be a key priority under a National-led Government.
Other elements of National’s recently-announced border security plan include:
- Requiring international travellers to provide evidence of a negative Covid-19 test before arriving in New Zealand.
- Beefing up contact tracing capabilities by rapidly deploying Bluetooth applications and exploring alternative technologies, such as a Covid Card.
- Widening the availability of Covid-19 testing nationwide, including implementing regular testing of aged-care workers and increasing opportunities for testing within aged-care facilities.
- Preparing a more effective response to future outbreaks, should they occur, allowing lockdowns to be more targeted and shorter in duration.
We should be utilising Parliament’s capabilities to make our systems stronger. Initially a request by National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti to re-convene Parliament’s Health Select Committee was refused by the Government. This was a slap in the face for New Zealanders who deserve a democratic examination of the response and identification of areas for improvement. Thankfully, however, this Committee will now meet to review the response to the second wave of Covid-19 in New Zealand, including questioning of the Director-General for Health.
Large-scale problems faced by essential workers in agriculture, horticulture, manufacturing and other sectors who have been refused permission to travel in and out of Auckland during the regional lockdown have highlighted the Government’s lack of preparedness for this scenario.
We cannot afford to brush aside failings in the response to date and neglect to make improvements going forward.