Friday, 26 Feb 2021

Audrey Young: Aussie suspension adds to Cabinet’s Covid agenda

OPINION:

It isn’t quite the start to the political year that Chris Hipkins and Jacinda Ardern had in mind.

Covid will be top of the agenda at today’s first Cabinet meeting of the year but not as they wanted.

The plan had been to begin the year with a confidence-building exercise by presenting an outline of New Zealand’s vaccination preparations.

That will still happen but it will take a back seat to their more immediate responses the Northland community case, including addressing the schemozzle of testing stations in Northland being overwhelmed.

If there is not community transmission, then the messaging to the public over who needs a test needs a swift review.

The Northland case is putting strain on the proposed star-crossed bubble with Australia.

As soon as New Zealand feels ready enough to set goals, Australia gets a new outbreak.
As soon as Australia has a clean run, New Zealand’s blots its Covid record.

Last night Australia suspended its one-way bubble with New Zealand. Another item to add to Cabinet’s Covid agenda.

The political focus of Covid over summer so far has been on the border and the vulnerability of 10,000 or so border and health staff who regularly come into contact with highly infectious arrivals.

After the immediate impact of the Northland case is known, the political focus will likely broaden the general safety of MIQ.

That will include a reasonably large number of people who are contracting Covid for the first time at about day 12 routine testing after negative tests at day zero and three.

With the help of genome testing, it requires further study to work out which Covid cases may have been picked up from failures in managed isolation (not counting people who get it from someone in their bubble in isolation or historic positives).

The vaccination programme and border management will continue to be the two vital Covid issues for the Government, but on aspects that they can control.

Repeated calls by Otago University academics for New Zealand to set up managed isolation facilities in other countries for passengers flying to New Zealand are not on the Government’s radar and are never likely to be.

It is just too complicated. The focus will remain on what happens at and inside the domestic border.

The likely events that led to the Northland community case can be classed as failure at the border, however. Managed isolation and quarantine are part of the Covid frontier keeping the virus at bay.

Genome sequencing suggests that the woman caught Covid shortly before leaving managed isolation in Auckland’s Pullman Hotel from an infectious person on the same floor who had recently arrived in managed isolation.

It may be as simple as yet another case of a lift-button or a door handle or, more alarmingly, through air conditioning.

Unfortunately it may be that there is not enough CCTV to ever know definitively how it got from person B to person A.

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