‘Urgent issues’: Report reveals how weaknesses in Covid-19 response were exposed by Delta variant

A raft of “urgent issues” and shortcomings in the Covid-19 response have been exposed by the Delta outbreak, according to a Government report which warns the country is not prepared to re-open. The Government-appointed independent review group – headed by public sector fix-it man Sir Brian Roche – provided Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins with a damning report of the Covid-19 response in September. The report was publicly released by the Government on Friday. Roche, in a letter to the minister accompanying the report, said the Delta outbreak had, “to a significant extent, exposed urgent issues with respect to New Zealand’s preparedness for reconnecting”. “It has also highlighted a degree of fragility around the license to operate – the goodwill and tolerance of the general public to lockdowns, and the closure of the borders is being challenged.”The-Dominion-PostSir Brian Roche, chair of the Government-appointed Covid-19 Independent Continuous Review, Improvement and Advice Group. (file photo) READ MORE:* Covid-19: Why 800 new contact tracers were brought on since Monday* Covid-19: The 18-month contact tracing struggle* Covid-19: New Zealand’s contact tracing could collapse under large outbreak In the report, the advice group warned that lockdowns were no longer sustainable, but the health system would not cope with the virus’ spread, given the vaccination rate at the time. “There is a massive economic and social cost associated with lockdowns per week. Given the impacts on the economy and people’s wellbeing, lockdowns … are an unsustainable tool. “However, we do not currently have the health infrastructure to cope without lockdowns as evidenced by the stretching of Auckland’s health infrastructure in the current outbreak even during an Alert Level 4 lockdown and due to current vaccination rates. “Were a larger outbreak to occur in the near future, there is real risk of our systems, infrastructures and work force being overwhelmed.” Roche listed a series of “pre-conditions” that needed to be met before New Zealand could be reopened to the world. He said vaccination coverage would need to be “well over” 90 per cent of the eligible population. As of Thursday, 89 per cent of people above 12 years had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. “It is clear that our New Zealand vaccination programme is failing certain populations, most notably Māori, who are at higher risk of serious disease and death than non-Māori. Addressing such disparities is an urgent priority,” Roche said. He said there needed to be “coherent and fit-for-purpose” alternatives to the managed isolation and quarantine system at the border, and a “breakthrough” that would allow for widespread use of saliva and rapid antigen testing. “The systems we adopt for interventions such as surveillance, testing, and contact tracing need to be bolstered. This has been the subject of recurring recommendations from our reports and needs to be addressed as a priority,” he said.An outbreak of the Delta variant of Covid-19 has exposed serious shortcomings with the Government’s Covid-19 response, a newly released report from a Government-appointed advisory board says. (file photo) “The current outbreak has revealed the very poor level of preparedness of hospitals for Delta. Auckland, which has a large and Covid-19 prepared health system relative to the rest of New Zealand, has essentially been stretched to capacity. “We are seeing from overseas evidence that even at 80 per cent vaccination rates hospitals and health systems are under significant pressure.” Roche, as his group has in previous reports, recommended a Covid-19 agency or unit was needed to better run the Covid-19 response – something the Government has shown no appetite to create. “The current operating model is failing and will fail in the even more complex operating environment after re-opening.” Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins responded, saying the Government welcomed the report, which it called a valuable independent view on the response during the outbreak. ”While Delta has brought unprecedented challenges to all areas of the Covid-19 response, we have made significant progress since the report was written. As the Group notes, New Zealand needs to ensure it’s prepared as we move to next phase of the pandemic response. ”The Covid-19 Protection Framework will guide how we keep people safe while minimising the impacts Covid-19 has on our day-to-day lives and on businesses. ”Progress has also been achieved in key areas highlighted by the group, with more testing and surveillance testing options, including saliva testing and rapid antigen tests for business, and mandatory vaccine requirements for the border, education and health sectors, Corrections, the police and Defence – providing more protection and certainty. ”This progress comes alongside the major reforms to the health system which will ensure fairer access for all New Zealanders. The Health System Preparedness Programme will build health system readiness to sustainably manage Covid-19 over the longer term, keeping Covid-19 case numbers as low as possible while ensuring a strong and resilient health system that meets health and social needs. We’re also reconnecting New Zealand with the rest of the world in a phased and safe way.” Since September, the Government has plotted a path out of lockdowns, developing the “traffic light” system of restrictions that will come into force on December 3. There has also been considerable investment in the Covid-19 response in recent weeks. On Thursday, ministers Andrew Little, Ayesha Verrall, and Carmel Sepuloni announced $1.5 billion would be spent on Covid-19 testing, contact tracing, and social services to support people who are infected by Covid-19. The bulk of the funding, nearly $1 billion, would be spent on testing, contact tracing and case investigation. A new case investigation service with 475 investigators would be set up, and the use of rapid antigen testing would be scaled up with the promise the tests would be widely used by December 1.

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