Our Beehive Bulletin
Covid-19 dominated the latest news from the Beehive when we checked earlier today.
Associate Health Minister Minister Ayesha Verrall delivered a speech to an international audience of medical people.
And Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced the Government has confirmed strict criteria for early vaccinations for people who need to travel outside of New Zealand on compassionate grounds or for reasons of national significance.
This announcement struck a sour note with the Maori Party, which unabashedly promotes race-based ideas for deciding what the pecking order should be.
The party has its dander up over the decision to allow national sports teams to be vaccinated early if they are travelling overseas for a big event.
According to RNZ, Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi said this is putting sports teams over indigenous people.
“This government should be ashamed of themselves … a national sports team over the vulnerability of its indigenous people.”
Any other vulnerable people – we may suppose – are not his concern and/or he is not too bothered about their place in the government’s priorities.
Ayesha Verrall delivered her speech (according to the heading on top of the release) to “the ASID Annual Scientific Meeting”.
Verrall took it for granted we would know what ASID is all about.
We didn’t know but we tracked down an outfit called the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases, described as the peak professional body for infectious diseases and microbiology in the region. We suspect this provided the Minister with her audience when she discussed a range of Covid-related issues and her government’s response to the pandemic.
This audience included Dr Fauci, the fellow who kept the American public on the straight and narrow while Donald Trump was fantasising about Covid-19 and what he was doing to control it.
Verrall’s speech dealt with …
- Social distancing and the alert level system.
- Development of the Elimination Strategy.
- Operationalising the Elimination Strategy (border controls, transmission in quarantine or isolation facilities, and measures to prevent aerosol spread in quarantine and isolation facilities).
- Surveillance and testing (including wastewater testing).
- COVID-19 Vaccines (covering purchasing strategy and the sequencing framework).
- How the COVID-19 vaccination programme will leave a legacy for the future.
- The future of the Elimination Strategy.
- Strengthening Public Health Capacity.
In her concluding remarks, Verrall recalled that at the peak of the initial outbreak, New Zealand had 90 cases in one day. But our rate fell quickly after the first two weeks in lockdown.
So far, New Zealand has among the world’s lowest rate of cases and deaths.
Our strong public health response has also enabled a strong economic recovery.
Science and strong leadership have been at the heart of the New Zealand response. The delivery of clear, open, empathetic communication assisted with a high level of cooperation – people understood the ‘why’ and ‘how’, not just the ‘what’ – stay home, save lives, be kind.
Decisions strongly informed by epidemiology, infectious disease and immunology expertise from across the science sector and implemented at pace have meant that New Zealand’s response to the pandemic resulted in a much lower impact on the country and the initial elimination of COVID-19.
Every step of the way, the New Zealand Government has put science at the front and centre of the decision-making process. Whether it’s our border management, the design and operation of our managed isolation and quarantine facilities, guidance and requirements in relation to the use of PPE, or the nature and extent of restrictions on personal movement and business operations.
In his announcement, Chris Hipkins recalled that two weeks ago the Government set out the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out plan – beginning with those most at risk of getting and spreading COVID-19 and those most at risk of getting seriously sick from it.
Even before people will be considered, they will need to satisfy a series of criteria, including being a New Zealand citizen, resident or visa holder; needing to travel before 31 August 2021; and having already made arrangements for returning to New Zealand.
“People should also ensure they will be able to receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine prior to their departure,” Chris Hipkins said.
The compassionate grounds that would be considered for travel overseas include:
- needing to provide critical care and protection for a dependant;
- accessing critical medical care that is not available in New Zealand; and
- visiting an immediate family member who is dying.
“This does not include reuniting with family, attending a funeral or memorial service, or attending a school or university.”
National significance overseas travel will include representing New Zealand:
- in an official capacity;
- at significant international events; and
- in an official non-government capacity.
“The key yardstick here is people travelling in an official capacity and ensuring their participation is in our national interest. We also expect these requests will need to be made by the appropriate agency or association on behalf of the individual, not by individuals themselves.
“It does not include private or recreational travel.”
The final consideration is the level of risk travellers will be exposed to COVID-19 in the destination country.
Further information about the new criteria and application process for an advanced vaccine request will be available in the coming week, before applications open 31 March.
But as RNZ reported, the Covid-19 vaccine rollout plan is being criticised by some Māori health leaders.
They say it isn’t based on evidence or achieving equity.
And how would we make it equitable?
Simple. Without a blush, they say Māori should be at the top of the list.
Ngāpuhi pandemic response project lead Tia Ashby said the priority plan did not sit well, and New Zealand should take heed from Canada where First Nations people were front of the queue.
She would have liked to have seen “all Māori prioritised” in the first eligibility tiers, otherwise “equity is not at the forefront of decisions”.
Associate health minister Peeni Henare rebutted this, saying the structure was already in place to be able to vaccinate vulnerable whānau, to “prioritise kaumātua, kuia, we’ve carved out provision there for Māori”.
Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said that under the priority plan, “older people living in a whānau environment” would be vaccinated after health workers.
If someone older or with a pre-existing condition was eligible and came in for vaccine, their whānau would be able to get the jab as well, Bloomfield said.
Will this mollify the Maori health workers quoted earlier in the RNZ report as demanding a race-based priority system?
Latest from the Beehive
24 MARCH 2021