Comment: NZers should be 'incredibly angry' at the Govt over incorrect Covid messaging

Author
Jason Walls, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 30 Aug 2020, 5:40PM
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was told about the incorrect messaging late this morning and made it clear it needed to be fixed. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was told about the incorrect messaging late this morning and made it clear it needed to be fixed. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Comment: NZers should be 'incredibly angry' at the Govt over incorrect Covid messaging

Author
Jason Walls, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 30 Aug 2020, 5:40PM

COMMENT:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is quite rightly "incredibly angry" at her officials for pushing out incorrect Covid-19 testing information.

But New Zealanders have every right to be incredibly angry at the Government for letting that official message remain unchanged for almost an entire day.

That message was that everyone in South and West Auckland should get a Covid-19 test – even if they are asymptomatic.

It was posted from the Government's official Covid-19 social media channels and led to queues of people in the area looking to get a Covid test.

That means that people with legitimate Covid symptoms faced a much, much longer wait as likely thousands of people scrambled to get tested.

The fact that the stuff-up occurred in the first instance beggars belief.

The information affected roughly 700,000 people in South and West Auckland.

Ardern was "incredibly angry" about this "wrong" information being published on official channels, and rightly so.

She said she was told about the incorrect messaging late this morning and made it clear it needed to be fixed.

But the information was still up at almost 1.30pm.

Officials getting something this major so wrong erodes public trust in the Government.
People need to be able to rely on the Government for key information like this.

Ardern cannot have people thinking twice about this sort of information – it's simply too important to ignore.

She said it herself today; getting through Covid-19 requires everyone on the team of five million to play their part.

Ardern does get off the hook when it comes to the blame for how the stuff-up occurred.

She does not approve every single bit of Government messaging that goes out, she has officials for that.

In fact, she clearly shifted the blame to those officials when pressed about the issue – saying no ministers had uttered that information.

But Ardern needs to take responsibility for what happened next.

The incorrect post went up at roughly 5pm last night; it was reported on by most major news sites and made it to some Sunday newspapers as well.

Despite this, no formal correction notice was issued until the next day, according to Ardern.

And by formal correction notice, Ardern meant the All of Government communications team – the people in charge of the post – had notified newsrooms across the country, telling them the information was wrong.

The Herald, which ran the story that the Government was advising all people in South and West Auckland, received no such notice.

This is despite reporters seeking comment on the post.

In fact, Health Minister Chris Hipkins was interview by MediaWorks radio this morning and made no mention of the fact this critical bit of information was wrong.

Ardern revealed the information was incorrect at her 1pm press conference this afternoon.
Even then, she waited to be asked about the post rather than issuing the correction in her opening statement – a statement watched by hundreds of thousands of people each day.
Ardern said she had made it clear to the officials involved that they needed to fix the error.

Despite this, the post remained on the Unite Against Covid-19 Instagram page until almost 1.30pm.

Ardern should be furious at officials for this botch up – but New Zealanders should be equally as angry at the Government for not fixing the issue faster.

Timeline:

Saturday 5pm:

The Unite Against Covid-19 social media channels posts the notice, telling people everyone – even asymptomatic people – in West and South Auckland to get tested.

Saturday 5pm onwards: Media starts reporting on the post and the message.

Sunday 8.24am: The Herald contacts the All of Government communications team for a comment - no response until ...

Sunday 11.09am: A communications spokesman says a response on the post would arrive soon, after they were followed up for a response.

Sunday 10.15am: Health Minister Chris Hipkins is interviewed by MediaWorks – does not bring up the fact that the messaging was wrong.

Sunday morning (unspecified time): PM Jacinda Ardern was "made aware" of the post. She said she made it clear that the issue needed to be fixed.

Sunday 1pm: The post with the incorrect information is still up – no official media advisory about the post has been made.

Sunday 1.15pm: Ardern is asked about the post, publically admits it was wrong and she was "incredibly angry".

Sunday 1.26pm: The Unite Against Covid-19 Instagram page still has the post up – it's taken down after Ardern was questioned about it in the 1pm press conference.

Sunday 1.39pm: An advisory from the official All of Government Covid-19 response unit issues an amended statement saying that only people who have been in contact with a confirmed or probable case needed to get tested, "even if they don't have symptoms".