Covid 19 coronavirus: Richard Prebble: Covid-19 requires a Royal Commission

OPINION:

New Zealand co-sponsored the resolution for the World Health Organisation to hold an international inquiry into the origins of Covid-19 and the response. Our Prime Minister explained “I think everyone would be of the view that if we want to prevent this from happening again, we do need to learn lessons”.

Another lockdown shows New Zealand has lessons to learn. We need our own inquiry.

This newspaper called for a Royal Commission nine months ago. “Terms of reference need to be broad enough to provide useful recommendations to this generation and the next. If this has been a one-in-100-year event, its report needs to inform the next century.”

National claims the Government in its first year set up 206 inquiries and working groups. Chris Hipkins says the real number is 41 inquiries. Whatever the number, this Government has never seen an issue it did not want to hold an inquiry into.

The Herald set out issues for a Royal Commission. The country’s pandemic plan was so “fatally flawed” it had to be abandoned. “In late March, stockpiles of tests were down to only six days’ supply. Our contract-tracing capacity was limited and able to manage only 10 cases simultaneously”. “New Zealand was ill-prepared. It was only by good fortune…- that we avoided the fates of Milan, New York or London.”

We can now add more issues. The critical shortage of PPE equipment. New Zealand was the 63rd country to close its borders.

The forecast of 3.32 million Covid-19 cases by July last year was wildly inaccurate.

Opposition MPs in an election year were placed under what was effectively house arrest.

The High Court has ruled the first lockdown was illegal. What was Crown Law’s advice?

Why was technology not used like in the UK to keep Parliament open? The Opposition was co-operating. If Parliament had been open legislation could have authorised the lockdown.

Why were butcher’s shops and greengrocers closed but supermarkets remained open?

Why did the Cabinet override officials and close down low-risk occupations like construction?

Are researchers correct in claiming because of hospitals closing down and deferring appointments and operations the lockdowns over time will kill more people than they have saved?

How is it that Taiwan with a population of 23 million has had fewer Covid cases and not one lockdown or school closure? Why can Taiwan track community transmissions in a few hours?

Why does the Government still not know the origin of the present outbreak?

The Prime Minister is placing the blame for the present lockdown on a 21-year-old. He got tested at his initiative. Would an inquiry find that as a known contact of a positive case contact-tracing should have ensured he was tested 10 days ago? Is the Government also to blame for the lockdown?

Then we have the quarantine. Is it sensible to lock up travellers for 14 days from countries that have no Covid?

The most serious long-term issue is the admission by the Prime Minister that the Government adopted eradication because our hospitals are so poorly equipped the health system would be overwhelmed.

When media revealed that border workers were not being tested the Government’s reaction was to hold an inquiry.

The Government appointed a safe pair of hands, Heather Simpson, Helen Clark’s former Chief of Staff, and Sir Brian Roche the Government’s go-to man.

The Simson-Roche report is a damming account of Government incompetence. Read the report. It is on the Internet. Google Simpson-Roche Report. It is just 30 pages long.

The border was left wide open. The Covid testing plan was written by a veterinary epidemiologist. Quarantine lapses were visible from a visit to Auckland Airport.

The Government’s response was unco-ordinated. The Ministry of Health knows nothing about the economic effects of its decisions but will not take advice. The cabinet set up an all of government response committee. The Ministry of Health failed to attend.

The report is careful not to criticise any minister. Any reader is left asking what ministers were doing.

PM Jacinda Ardern realised the report in September was a bombshell. Its release would destroy the spin of New Zealand being “global leaders” in managing Covid-19. Government suppressed the report until after the election and released it the Friday before Christmas.

Chris Hipkins claimed “actions on five of the recommendations have been completed, with 23 underway”.

One key recommendation was “introduce saliva testing as soon as possible.” The cars queuing for hours in Auckland for nasal swaps give the lie to the Minister’s claims.

These are the reasons we need a Royal Commission. Here is the reason there will be no inquiry.

The Government has concluded the political cost of refusing to hold an enquiry is less than the cost to its reputation of having one.

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