National’s Covid-19 response spokesman Chris Bishop says it’s ‘outrageous’ that it took a complaint to the Ombudsman for a document advising that Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) does not were no longer needed, to be revealed.
The Department of Health document shows that Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay and Chief Health Officer Dr Ashley Bloomfield informed the Government in November last year that the system would not was more justified.
However, MIQ was not finally discontinued until almost four months later.
“The idea that [the advice] was free and outspoken and we shouldn’t see it, that’s…pretty bad,” Bishop said. morning report.
At the time the government received the notice, there were many Delta cases in the community but very few people with Covid-19 were crossing the border, he said.
“There was tremendous pressure across the MIQ system and it seems, in retrospect, that we could have had a few more people in the system by moving to self-isolation sooner than we did,” said said Bishop.
“I think there will obviously be huge frustration from a lot of people who might have gone home.”
Robertson excludes any compensation
A man who failed six times to secure a place at MIQ told RNZ he wanted compensation for those who might have skipped MIQ if the advice had been followed, as well as a meaningful apology.
Richard Lemare called the MIQ lottery scheme “shocking” and said he was disappointed that his complaints to MPs went largely unanswered.
“As they described it themselves, it was a stampede…there was a lack of compassion.”
However, Acting Prime Minister Grant Robertson said morning report the government had not considered compensating MIQ returnees since November.
Robertson said he understood people were frustrated with the MIQ process, but it was done for the greater good of all New Zealanders and saved many lives.
Bishop said he sympathized with New Zealanders who were unable to return to the country while the MIQ remained in place, saying the stories of ‘human hardship’ he had heard over the past two years were difficult to manage.
“There was this range of really bizarre circumstances where you had more people with Covid taking the New Zealand community MIQ facilities, compared to people who were New Zealand citizens abroad who had been doubly vaccinated, who didn’t have Covid, and then of course these people – rightly – feel very frustrated about that.”
However, he would not be drawn to the legality of keeping the MIQ open after the government received advice from McElnay and Bloomfield, saying a decision in the legal case by Grounded Kiwis was due soon.
“The rationale for the MIQ has changed over time as public health circumstances have changed…when it was put in place in April/May 2020, it was clearly justified. Whether it was justified or not in November 2021 is an open question.”
Omicron has changed the playing field
Robertson defended the timeline for ending the MIQ system, saying the Department of Health memo was given to the government on November 15 and that Dr Bloomfield wanted it to be peer reviewed, which was done by Dr. Tony Blakely and Dr. Philip Hill.
The review confirmed that the MIQ was no longer required, but that a careful transition would be required.
Dr. Bloomfield knew that removing the MIQ would be an irreversible decision. The Department of Health therefore wanted the best advice, hence the need for peer review.
The Cabinet decided that the MIQ would be phased out in January, but the arrival of Omicron pushed the date back to February.
“Ultimately the advice was taken, but a gradual, cautious approach was agreed upon, and then Omicron came along and in many ways that reinforced the wisdom of that gradual, cautious approach,” Robertson said.
“There is no doubt that the MIQ has played an important role in keeping New Zealanders safe and ensuring that we limit the number of deaths…
“What we wanted to do was make sure our transition was careful and I think the right decision was made.”
Epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said morning report MIQ had been ‘pivotal’ in New Zealand’s initial elimination strategy and rolling them back was always going to be a big change.
“It’s great that the Department of Health is doing regularly updated risk assessments.”
The plan was to start relaxing entry requirements from mid-January, Baker said, but “that changed with the emergence of the Omicron variant, as we know, in November.”
He said the elimination strategy, which relied on “strict border management”, had saved more than 10,000 lives in New Zealand.
“The government’s approach has been quite cautious throughout and I think that has benefited New Zealand and it just takes into account that pandemics are very unpredictable.”