Sir Ian Taylor - Nine questions for the Prime Minister about Covid tests in NZ

Sir Ian Taylor - Nine questions for the Prime Minister about Covid tests in NZ

OPINION:

I have to declare a potential conflict of interest.

I voted for the current Government on the basis that I believed the Prime Minister when she said this would be one of the most transparent governments – ever.

I have watched with growing concern the daily announcements from the “single source of truth” podium at the Beehive where a narrative of “trust us – we know best” has been allowed to grow, almost without question. Those who have questioned it are moved to the back of the queue – or simply ignored.

That mantra has now moved into the parliamentary process where laws are being passed under urgency without any level of transparency, or due process. “We know best” appears to be the sole justification for this extraordinary circumvention of the democratic process.

On September 12 I wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister with an offer to bring help from part of her team of 5 million that up until then had been left sitting on the bench. The offer was genuine, and I really thought that it would open the door to some new thinking that matched the rapidly changing environment that is the hallmark of Covid. In the more than two months since that first offer I have not heard from her, or her office.

Recently, and at no cost to the Government, a significant group from the bench stepped up to fund a trial with specific goals to provide additional advice, for free, to the Prime Minister’s office. We also commissioned an independent review by Ernst & Young. Both reports have been offered to the Government for their consideration with no response to date. Links to both can be found below.

I take seriously the privilege and responsibility that comes with having the right to vote.

The counter to that is that politicians have to take seriously the reasons they gave us to earn that vote.

So, in the spirit of transparency, through these columns, I am going to share specific questions I am sending to the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Covid Recovery Minister Chris Hipkins and director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield because, from what I have learned over the past couple of months, it appears this group is who they are referring to when they talk about “the single source of truth.” I am hoping that they might become the single source of answers as well.

These first questions all relate to the decision made by Bloomfield around testing.

1: Why did it take until yesterday to acknowledge that people in Mangere, one of the most vulnerable communities in the country, are being expected to wait in isolation for up to five days to get a result from the one nasopharyngeal test that you have so far approved – as the gold standard? Is it true the number affected is in the thousands?

2: Why is the Canadian nasopharyngeal PCR test the only PCR test you are subsidising with taxpayer funds when there is a New Zealand PCR test that can deliver up to 10,000 results a day to help relieve that pressure?

3: Is it true that instead of contracting the alternative Kiwi solution, as you have done with the Canadian option, you are backing legislation going through Parliament that will give you the power to simply nationalise the IP of this Kiwi company, at a price you will determine?

4: Why has an alternative saliva PCR test that you awarded the same Canadian company for $60 million been abandoned – or deferred to some time in the future – depending on which government office you are listening to?

5: What is your response to the Auditor-General’s questioning of the process you undertook in the awarding of this contract with regard to the potential conflicts of interest of four out of the five panellists who awarded the contract?

6: There is another Kiwi PCR test that has received millions in funding from the US government that can deliver a result in 27 minutes. Why haven’t you accepted their offer to trial this system in an MIQ facility where they can gather valuable evidence of their effectiveness alongside your current five-day turnaround product?

7: Now that you plan to open the borders to the world in April, have you considered that the timing means people from the northern hemisphere will be coming out of their winter, a winter that has caused a significant uplift in Covid cases, into our winter where we will almost certainly experience our own winter surge, not just of Covid but of new variants of the flu?

8: As we see the totally expected arrival of a new variant out of Africa, are you still confident that your single focus on vaccination as being the answer to keeping us safe is going to see you adhering to that April deadline, or will we see another shift in plans because you haven’t addressed our best line of defence – testing?

9: Given the growing concerns of the effectiveness of the vaccine over time, not to mention the arrival of the new variant, why have you not prioritised an evaluation of the Orbis Immunity test that has been developed at Auckland University as part of the work that has been funded by The Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonics and Quantum Technologies?

You know – a group of scientists!

I look forward to your responses so that I can share them with complete transparency with others who may be looking for that as well.

In my next column I will address the question of trust. We gave you that trust when this began, have you done enough to keep it?

To access the Ernst & Young report from the 151 Off the Bench trial, and the offer I have made to various officials to share our findings from that trial, you will find them freely available at:

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