For the past day Radio New Zealand has been pushing a shock horror take that Ashley Bloomfield and Caroline McElnay advised the Government to loosen up the MIQ system but the Government delayed this decision.
From Katie Todd at RNZ:
Top health officials agreed in November last year that Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) was “no longer justified” for most returnees, according to a document the Ministry of Health tried to keep secret.
It took another three and a half months, almost 40,000 MIQ stays and seven voucher lotteries before most incoming travellers could enter freely.
At the time the document was signed off, 80 percent of the country’s eligible population had been double-vaccinated and Delta was spreading in the community.
Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay wrote to Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield seeking his agreement to an updated Public Health Risk Assessment.
She wanted it to reflect that “the risk posed by international arrivals transmitting Covid-19 is no longer higher than the domestic transmission risk of Covid-19”.
McElnay asked Bloomfield if he agreed the risk was no higher, and if so: “Managed Isolation for border returnees would no longer be justified on public health grounds as the ‘default’ for people travelling to New Zealand,” the document said.
Bloomfield did agree, and he also agreed to brief Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, and start creating a plan for making ‘self-isolation’ the default requirement for returnees.
The memo noted the government might need to speed up its plan for a phased easing of border restrictions in the first quarter of 2022.
Yet it was not until 2 March, 15 weeks later, before the government lifted MIQ requirement for inbound travellers.
RNZ then did the usual, interviewed Grounded Kiwis representatives and people whose wedding had to be postponed. Here is an example of what we have been subject to:
Neil Protheroe found himself unable to return to New Zealand from France in January, caught amongst the huge demand for MIQ spaces.
He said the ministry’s memo added “insult to injury” for thousands of people who were unable to travel.
“It’s salt in the wound of those who’ve been really badly treated and in some cases, traumatised, by the whole thing,” he said.
[Grounded Kiwis spokesperson Martin] Newall said it would “point to a breach of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act for those people who wanted to come home in that period.”
People who paid for MIQ after November should be entitled to ask for their money back, Newall said.
Did the Government delay changes to the MIQ system way beyond what was reasonable? The timeline is all important. The advice was signed off on November 15, 2021. Dr Dean Knight has helpfully provided a copy of the memo in this tweet.
For those interested in the implications of MoH’s advice re a revised risk assessment for MIQ/returnees in Nov 2021, it’s worth reading the memo in full. pic.twitter.com/E00h6q0xWF
— ᴅʀ ᴅᴇᴀɴ ᴋɴɪɢʜᴛ (@drdeanknight) April 19, 2022
Bloomfield and McElnay did not propose an immediate halt to MIQ but rather a transition. As Knight concludes:
The politics of this is for others, no doubt. But, legally, this memo is no revelation. It is consistent with the known timeline re MIQ’s life. And the internal advice (and subsequent — peer reviewed — advice to Cabinet) was acknowledged/explained by govt in GK judicial review.
— ᴅʀ ᴅᴇᴀɴ ᴋɴɪɢʜᴛ (@drdeanknight) April 19, 2022
On November 24, 2021 the Government announced a transition away from MIQ.
And on that day something else happened. The details are in this RNZ article:
When South Africa reported a new variant of Covid-19 to the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 24 November, 2021, it sparked a chain of events that quickly led to Omicron – the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet – becoming a household name.
Two days after being alerted to its existence, the WHO’s Technical Advisory Group named the new variant Omicron (or lineage B.1.1.529 in scientific circles) and classified it a Variant of Concern (VOC).
But what exactly is a VOC and how concerned should we be at Omicron’s spread?
Will existing vaccines against Covid-19 be effective in slowing Omicron’s transmission and how will its spread affect hospitalisation and mortality rates?
Will it get to New Zealand? And if it does, how might that impact the government’s planned international border reopening in 2022?
On December 13, 2021 Jacinda Ardern said at a post-Cabinet briefing that ministers would receive further advice on the Omicron variant in early January to ensure the decision to ditch MIQ requirements for some travellers remained the correct one. At that time Omicron was ravaging parts of Australia and the Government’s decision to keep the virus out for as long as possible was the correct one.
Chris Bishop was interviewed this morning by Suzy Ferguson. At one stage she asked him why he was not angry about this and he fudged his answer. I am pretty sure his embarrassment was because he knows that the decision to delay implementation of the MIQ wind back was the right one especially given the emergence of Omicron.
RNZ’s take on this issue is severely deficient. The framing is one sided. The full context has not been clearly expressed, that the advice to wind back MIQ was accepted and publicly announced at the time but the emergence of Omicron caused the Government to reconsider its position.
Judging by Twitter I suspect there will be a few complaints about this. The concept of balance appears to be lacking so far.