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;
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 June – the day before the story broke in the media – eerily prescient;
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
Twitter: @fmacskasy – 10.44PM Jun 11, 2020
Mediaworks/Newshub: Father concerned after quarantined son taken for walk with person with COVID-19
Twitter: @fmacskasy – 1.41PM Jun 15, 2020
Mediaworks/Newhub: Kiwi in quarantine pleads with Government for right to visit dying mother
Worldometer: Coronavirus Covid-19 Pandemic
The Standard: Responsible politics verses Gotcha politics
Previous related blogposts
This blogpost will be re-published in five days on “Frankly Speaking“. Reader’s comments may be left here (The Daily Blog) or there (Frankly Speaking).
= fs =