ZB

John MacDonald: The Government did the right thing with MIQ

Author
John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Wed, 20 Apr 2022, 1:02pm
(Photo / RNZ)
(Photo / RNZ)

John MacDonald: The Government did the right thing with MIQ

Author
John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Wed, 20 Apr 2022, 1:02pm

I don’t consider myself to have been affected at all by the MIQ system that has operated here in New Zealand for pretty much the last couple of years. 

I’ve got a brother in London who possibly would have visited if MIQ wasn’t operating. But I don’t have a heartbreaking story, like many other people do, when it comes to the MIQ requirements keeping them separated from friends and families during tragic and stressful times in their lives. 

And so maybe that’s why I’m not going to be jumping on the bandwagon and condemning the Government over the news that it may have kept the MIQ system running longer than it needed to. 15 weeks longer.  

The Government’s getting a truckload of flak over the revelation that it was told in November last year that MIQ was no longer needed, but kept it going anyway for another three-and-a-half months. 

And it’s a truckload of flak that I don’t think is justified.  

In November last year, Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay told Cabinet that they thought the risk of getting Covid from someone coming here from overseas was no greater than the risk of getting it from someone already here.  

Essentially, they were telling Cabinet that MIQ had served its purpose and they didn’t think it was needed any longer. 

But the Government didn’t do anything, and kept the MIQ rules in place for another 15 weeks – and it was March before any changes finally happened 

What that meant, was that there were about 40,000 more MIQ stays than there might have been if the Government had acted straight away when it got the advice in November. 40,000 stays and seven online lotteries which these people had to take part in to get their spot in MIQ. 

A lot of stress, a lot of heartache – which, on the face of it, was totally unnecessary. 

And they are the five key words here – “on the face of it”. 

On the face of it, the Government ignored the advice – and that’s why people are jumping up and down. 

But there’s more to it – much more to it – and I think the Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson explained it well when he spoke with Tim Dower this morning. 

He said Cabinet was told on November 15 last year by Ashley Bloomfield and Caroline McElnay that they thought MIQ wasn’t needed because of the reason I mentioned earlier – that we had just as much a chance of getting Covid from someone already here, as we did of getting it from someone coming into New Zealand from overseas. 

But he also said that Bloomfield and McElnay emphasised to Cabinet that any change would have to be carefully managed and that they themselves wanted their advice peer reviewed just to double check that they were on the right track. 

As Grant Robertson said this morning – Ashley Bloomfield knew full well, that once they got rid of MIQ there’d be no going back. 

So, Cabinet said “yes, get the peer review” and that’s what Ashley Bloomfield did. And the advice that came back from that was that if New Zealand was going to do away with MIQ it had to think carefully about the risk of more people coming through the borders, it needed to check that its testing processes were up to scratch, it needed to be sure that vulnerable people wouldn’t be put at unnecessary risk by MIQ shutting up shop. All common sense stuff. 

And so, on the back of that, the Government decided it would do away with MIQ in January – but then Omicron arrived and it was pushed out another month. 

As I say, this all makes perfect sense to me. But it doesn’t seem to be making perfect sense to everybody. 

And that probably will be because some people suffered terribly because of MIQ. It will also be because some people just won’t believe anything the Government says – and I don’t necessarily blame them because, as we know, this current government isn’t as transparent and open as it says it is. 

The fact that this information has only come out today – well, that’s not open and transparent as far as I’m concerned. 

Nevertheless, I think the Government did the right thing by not shutting the doors on MIQ as quickly as Ashley Bloomfield and Caroline McElnay were advocating for last November.  

As Grant Robertson said this morning: it got the advice, had it peer reviewed, accepted the advice, acted on it and had to press pause for another month when Omicron arrived. 

What is so wrong with that? Sounds like a pretty sensible approach to me.