Dr Liz Gordon – Up your nose


I am not, in general, a person who goes along with things because I am told to.  I have a bad attitude towards being told to do things.  This can be completely annoying at times to other people! But, I am a pussycat if handled properly. If convinced of the rightness of a course of action, I am out front leading the charge, rallying the troops, getting things done.

Although the intensity of my reaction might be a bit extreme, I don’t think I am that much different from others. Most of us will accede to reasonable requests and, in times of need, direct instructions. Appeals to the greater good usually work.  During level 4, the vast majority of people responded really well to requirements to stay in their bubbles.  I am pretty sure that if the need re-emerged, we would do so again – because we have seen that it works.

So now I want to think about 71 people, as reported on Friday by the Herald:

The Ministry of Health on Friday revealed of the 2159 people in managed isolation from June 9 to 16, 71 let out without being tested had since been contacted but refused to be tested.

If we can agree with the formulation that reasonable people will accede to reasonable requests if they are not too onerous, then one of the following must be true.

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  • These are not reasonable people.  As they are New Zealanders repatriating to their home country, one would like to think they are reasonable people.  They may feel they have some grievance, perhaps around forced isolation.  Or they may just be… not reasonable.
  • The request was not presented as reasonable. I wonder how these people were contacted and what was said to them. One can imagine hackles going up if a person was ordered to present their nostril for testing, rather than being asking to be tested for the public good.
  • The request was onerous. It is possible that, due to work requirements, transport, family duties and so on, that that person found they could not make it to the testing site, and therefore refused.

It is important to remember that many of these people have spent months in Covid 19 hot spots.  They may fear going to a testing site, and their confidence would not have been bolstered by the slack treatment of their isolation by officials. They may be quite critical of what they have seen.

They may also just think that, having spent a fortnight in isolation, and been out for some time without symptoms, there is no necessity for them to be tested.

We have a tendency to get very angry and annoyed when people act in ways we don’t understand.  As I have written before, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the two women who drove from Auckland to Wellington with the covid. By revealing the parlous state of our isolation system, and the perfidy and desperation of National MPs, they did us several favours.

If any of those 71 nostrils are in hiding because the owner suspects they have the virus, then that would be blameworthy. But it is much more likely that a range of other factors explain the absence of nose swabbing. We have been extremely fortunate to have escaped the border failures with no new community transmission and no doubt everyone is keeping their fingers tightly crossed.

Perhaps not everyone. The National Party is in an interesting position. It would be highly in their political interests for the border failures to have brought community transmission back to New Zealand.  But are they wishing for such an evil to fall upon our nation? I do hope not.

*  *  *

Just briefly on the health minister and health reforms.

I think the main thing about David Clark is that he is not a very hands-on minister, In fact, very detached.  Should this be a sackable offence?  I think that his replacement on the isolation front with Megan Woods, who is definitely a hands-on minister, was a good move. In terms of David Clark, I am more worried about him leading any health reforms that emerge from Heather Simpson’s report. 

The poor health system has been subject to three big neo-liberal phases, each worse than the one before, and the Simpson report is just another version of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. It is full of failed principles such as separation of policy from operations (another new national agency to be developed), top-down accountabilities and so on.  We have seen it all, oh so very many times before. Is David Clark, and indeed, is the Labour Government, up to rejecting this blueprint and seeking a more democratic and effective response?  I hope so but fear not.


Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society.  She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.


  1. Pussycat indeed ! You’re sounding less of a domesticated feline, Liz, and good on you.

    Somewhere I have Prof Sir David Skegg’s comments from an OU publication, that the health dept lacks leadership; many GP’s would agree with that; it has long been thought perhaps the refuge of those who can’t hack it out in the world of private practice; I wouldn’t include Dr Bloomfield here, and in the inner recesses of my greying matter lurks the knowledge that David Clark is a Med School drop-out; that’s not really hugely significant as a number of folk graduating as dentists, initially headed south hoping to be doctors.

    They may need a new operating model – more inclusive perhaps of the various medical school staff, who are the people with the brains – as evidenced by often very impressive post-graduate experience and qualifications.

    The question of non-compliance with testing is vexing; I found isolation vexing, and sometimes hard, but complied for the common good, and that’s the bottom line really; at the same time I have known officious officials who I’d like to tell to piss off; perhaps they can accommodate this into their script – and they should certainly be working from scripts – and scripts not written by a govt dept, “wordsmith” either.


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