Cabinet was repeatedly told prior to the August outbreak that the regular asymptomatic testing of all border-facing workers was still being rolled out, despite ministers claiming ignorance, Marc Daalder reports
This is a polite way of saying Ministers lied.
At the time, Jacinda Ardern and Health Minister Chris Hipkins insisted they had been told that testing was further along than it in fact was.
“It has not been happening at the rates that, A, we have asked for, and B, we were told was happening,” Hipkins said.
“When we ask as a Cabinet for something to happen, we expect it to happen. So of course that has not met our expectations. No one of course said to any point – that I recall – that what we asked for was not happening,” Ardern said.
But documents proactively released by the Government reveal that isn’t the case. Cabinet was repeatedly told that the border testing was still being rolled out and was never given a date for completion. Cabinet was also provided specific numbers of tests of border-facing workers on a weekly basis.
So Ministers were given exact numbers every single week. They knew not all workers had been tested.
Hipkins’ promised reports began to come in weekly, keeping Cabinet updated on the slow rollout of border testing. Even in the final document, provided to Cabinet the day before the second outbreak of Covid-19 was discovered, officials are clear that weekly testing of all staff had yet to be implemented.
What a pity this information only came out after the election.
Alongside the comments, Cabinet was provided with a breakdown of the number of workers in each cohort and the number who had been tested. Of the 2,000 MIQ staff, just 290 had been tested in the previous week. Of 5,000 Auckland Airport staff, 211 had received a test. At the ports, where 2,100 people were estimated to be eligible for testing, just 12 had been tested in the past seven days.
Yet, just a week later, Ardern told reporters: “No one of course said to any point – that I recall – that what we asked for was not happening.”
So they were told only 12 of 2,100 port workers had been tested in the past week, and it didn’t ring any alarms bells with Ministers.
The level of incompetence really is staggering. Competent Ministers read reports, understand if things are not progressing at the necessary speed, and then make directions to ensure they do.