Covid 19 coronavirus: Audrey Young – Political focus turns to whether lockdown was caused by border failure


Now that the immediate impact of the latest Covid-19 lockdown in Auckland has sunk in, the political focus is turning to whether it was caused by a border failure -and whether it could have been prevented.

The Government is almost certain to face questions in Parliament today from the Opposition about which workers should be tested, how frequently, with what, and how that testing regime is being monitored.

Jacinda Ardern is reluctant to characterise the latest Covid community cases as a border failure.

But in the absence of any conclusive proof to the contrary, the logical working assumption is that the woman who worked in the laundry department of a catering and laundry service for airlines caught it at work, possibly from someone at work who had it undetected.

It was originally reported that she was being tested at work for Covid-19 but fortnightly because she was in a low-risk job, not working “airside”.

It turns out that the testing was something the company, LSG Sky Chefs, offered her to take voluntarily and that she was not covered by the Government’s testing policy as some of its other workers are.

What also disturbs National is that the company was not using the Ministry of Health tool to track which workers are being tested.

That may well be symptomatic of dozens of private sector companies whose work is associated with the international airport.

Baggage handlers, for example, are required to be tested but the people who wash the blankets that possibly infectious passengers have been swathed in for hours are not.

New cases always show up weaknesses. If nothing else, this may shine light on a newly discovered weak link in the system, the private sector, that has been difficult to monitor because it has no lines of accountability to the Government.

The debate is also likely to turn to greater use of daily saliva rapid testing both for at-risk workers and eventually to help open the borders, and the testing hesitancy being shown.

The Government has begun to use it in a very limited way – a matter of voluntary tests being offered to hundreds of the 12,000 border-facing staff.

The Government and Ministry of Health have often spent a long time resisting a move before accepting its use, such as the testing of arrivals back in March last year, pre-departure testing this year, and even initially the wearing of masks.

The Opposition is expected to make the case for greater urgency around testing and monitoring and while Auckland remains in lockdown, they have a strong case.

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