Covid 19 coronavirus: Richard Prebble: A better way to beat the virus


This Covid outbreak is the worst public health snafu since the Massey Government let WW1 soldiers with Spanish flu disembark. At least Massey never closed Parliament to avoid being accountable.

The virus is learning faster than we are.

Ministers are ignoring the official New Zealand Influenza Pandemic Plan, which states that the recovery phase from an outbreak can start when the population is protected by vaccination or the pandemic has abated. If we were all vaccinated against Covid, the country would not be in lockdown.

We have gone from being in front of the queue for vaccination to the back.

The most expensive way to fight the virus is a lockdown. New South Wales shows how hard it is to stamp out the Delta variant in a largely unvaccinated community.

Ministers rely on lockdowns because they have swallowed their own propaganda. We were never a team of 5 million. There were always those who are not team players.

Addicts will do anything for a fix. Drug addicts have told me their dealers kept supplying through the lockdowns.

The longer the lockdowns, the more lights I saw on in holiday homes.

We need better compliance to defeat the more infectious Delta variant.

The Government has learned nothing.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) is still giving out contradictory advice. Why are butchers, bakers and greengrocers closed? How are supermarkets with unvaccinated workers safer?

For almost 30 years Pharmac has purchased the nation’s vaccines. Yet ministers appointed MBIE to purchase Covid vaccines. The ministry has never bought an Aspirin.

Officials spent half a million dollars on consultants and lawyers. Wasting time, MBIE lost our place in the queue.

MBIE has purchased just one type of vaccine. For just $40 million extra, we could have had fast delivery.

In contrast, Pharmac’s website says its strategy is “competition between pharmaceutical companies”.

Medsafe has approved another vaccine. Using different vaccines for each jab can give better protection. The vaccine shortage is of the Government’s own making.

The way to defeat an outbreak is to rapidly test, trace and isolate. In Sydney, Delta is spreading faster than they can swab test.

The Simpson/Roche report last September recommended: “All efforts should be made to introduce saliva testing as soon as possible”.

Unbelievably, Cabinet has issued “Covid-19 Public Health Response (Point-of-care Tests) order 2021” banning the unauthorised importing of rapid Covid tests.

The Ministry of Health has totally botched obtaining rapid tests. Instead of expressing frustration, Andrew Little should accept that he is the Minister and is responsible.

If Pharmac was purchasing, we would have access to cheap, reliable, do-it-yourself Covid tests. Instead, resources are being diverted from vaccination and people are waiting for hours for tests and the results.

Everyone in Auckland could have had a rapid Covid self-test in 24 hours.

My nephew is in London. He has had his first vaccination. He discovered he had Covid from a DIY test. He self-isolated. He self-tested until he was no longer infectious. He never needed to see a health professional.

If my nephew was in New Zealand he would not be vaccinated. He would have queued for hours for a test. He would have been infectious while waiting for results. Being unvaccinated, he might have had to be hospitalised.

In Britain there are almost no Covid restrictions. We are not world leading when we are in Level 4 lockdown and case numbers are increasing.

The Strategic Covid-19 Public Health Advisory Group recommended “that the scanning of QR codes should be mandated at some types of venue”. Tracing has been difficult because the advice was only adopted after the outbreak.

Medsafe approved the vaccination of children aged 12-15 back in June. Again, that advice was only adopted after the outbreak.

The former Labour Minister of Health, Dr Michael Bassett, made this prophetic post: “If the Delta Variant creeps in, that will provide a platform for daily press conferences where the Prime Minister can look concerned and wave phony solutions, and fill the TV news programmes”.

To command both TV news channels, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern waited until 6pm to tell us that Covid was in the community. Then we had to wait 10 minutes for an announcement that was largely self-congratulatory.

Ardern is exploiting the lockdown for publicity. Ministers knew last Friday that the lockdown would not end last night. Announcing short extensions enables Ardern to dominate the news.

We need a fix-it Minister like Steven Joyce. A fix-it Minister would:

• Put Pharmac in charge of purchasing

• Buy rapid DIY Covid tests. Airfreight the kits. Distribute them through supermarkets. We could be self-testing in 48 hours

• Buy more vaccines, especially the one-dose type

• Give everyone their first dose in 30 days. Use every available health resource – GP clinics, pharmacies, district nurses, Plunket, the lot. Keep the vaccination centers open 24/7

With DIY tests and rapid vaccination, this lockdown can succeed. With vaccination this can be the last lockdown.

– Richard Prebble is a former leader of the Act Party and former member of the Labour Party

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