Jack Tame: Border issues are utterly unacceptable

Author
Jack Tame,
Publish Date
Sat, 17 Apr 2021, 9:57AM
Photo / NZ Herald
Photo / NZ Herald

Jack Tame: Border issues are utterly unacceptable

Author
Jack Tame,
Publish Date
Sat, 17 Apr 2021, 9:57AM

Kiwis should be angry about the lack of checks on border testing.

This weekend marks a milestone of sorts. Australia, we’re coming at'cha! I’m excited to visit my family over there. My brother and I are really close and it’s been almost 18 months since I saw my grandma. She’s 94 as of last weekend. She’s vaccinated. From the way she’s been talking, she’s in a fearsome vein of gin-rummy form that I’m hoping to end before long. 

I know for others, this bubble is even an more critical and urgent development. But in a way, we’re lucky this thing is even happening. Not because logistically it’s too difficult – the Australian government has had a bubble up and running for months, now. But because once again, our border defences have been exposed as significantly more vulnerable than we’ve been led to believe. It’s outrageous that at this stage of the response, a border worker could contract the virus and come to work having apparently not been tested for Covid-19 for more than five months. 

It’s flabbergasting. It’s utterly unacceptable. And to be honest, I’m surprised there isn’t more anger. Just imagine how different these school holidays might have been if the worker had passed on the virus to just a few more people and we had a wider outbreak. Forget the trans-Tasman bubble, it’s quite possible we could have all been in lockdown this morning. 

If this were another country, I could understand why we didn’t have the checks and balances in place to give us certainty that every border worker was being regularly tested for the virus. Unlike other countries where Covid-19 remains in the community, we don’t have to focus as keenly on the daily medical response to the virus. We’re not weighed down by debates over schools opening or the logistics of getting ventilators and PPE to regions where they’re needed most.

It’s precisely because we’ve done so well... it’s because we’ve stamped out Covid-19 in the community, that this negligence is so unacceptable.

If you make sure the border is as close to perfect as possible, almost of that other Covid-19 management stuff doesn’t matter. Our border protections should be our absolute focus and priority.

From what we understand, the Ministry of Health has been relying on an honesty system to record border testing progress. An honesty system, where one little error can cost lives, jobs, and hundreds of millions of dollars.

In a way, we’re fortunate to have even learnt about the testing error. I don’t expect you to have tuned into the select committee this week where Ashley Bloomfield and top MBIE officials were asked about their response. Labour MPs spent the vast majority of the session deliberately soaking up time and asking rambling softball questions in order to protect their officials. Why? This pandemic isn’t primarily a political issue, it’s a public health issue. It’s a public health emergency. If National’s Chris Bishop hadn’t been able to squeeze in the question about the worker’s history, who knows if it would ever have come to light?

And don’t forget, this is the second time this border testing issue has come about. It's the second time it’s been revealed that despite all the promises, border workers haven’t been tested regularly.  In August last year, we were assured workers were all getting swabbed when almost two thirds had never even had a single test. I can’t believe that after that error, officials didn’t establish apply the highest level of scrutiny, possible. I can’t believe they are not micro-managing the shit out of our border.

Maybe third time’s a charm. Chris Hipkins has just made the Border Worker Vaccine Register compulsory for frontline workers. Why it wasn’t mandatory beforehand, I don’t understand.

Still... it’ll be good to see those first flights take off between here and Australia. I’d call it The Lucky Country, but I’m wondering if that’s us.

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