By Eric Crampton 13/05/2021


Marc Daalder tallies a few of the failures in getting better tech rolled out at the border.

On Sunday, National Party Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop revealed that a voluntary rollout of saliva-based testing of border workers had seen just 339 saliva tests performed since it began in January.

“Public health experts have recommended introducing regular saliva testing across our border workforce, but the Government has been very slow to act,” Bishop said.

Now, the Ministry of Health has confirmed to Newsroom that a trial of another technology to detect Covid-19, the ëlarm app, has similarly foundered. Health officials dodged questions about how many border workers had signed up to the voluntary trial, but said it wasn’t enough to gain any useful data.

“There has been a low initial take-up of the trial,” a ministry spokesperson said. Up to 500 border workers could sign up to test the technology, which uses an app and a fitness tracker to detect early warning signs of Covid-19.

“The trial will stay open until enough people have taken part to provide a useful set of data for analysis, which might be for a number of months.”

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the issue was an operational one for the ministry to sort out, but warned against providing incentives for people to sign up.

Rako is rolling out its saliva testing through Green Cross affiliated pharmacies for private individuals needing a Covid test. But the government just can’t be bothered to add that kind of saliva testing regime through the MIQ system.

It seems completely nuts.

The fundamental capacity constraint in the MIQ system is the number of positive cases the health system thinks it can handle.

A lot of those cases are being caught in MIQ.

Daily saliva testing would catch cases much more quickly, reducing the chances of within-MIQ transmission.

It’s a bit grim.

There’s seemingly no appetite in government for running a tighter MIQ system that might be able to withstand greater volumes of people.

But the MIQ system has to hold until we have everyone vaccinated, which will take at least until the end of the year, and longer if new variants pop up in the meantime requiring new shots that haven’t yet been developed. Australia’s banking on this lasting through mid-2022. NZ’s MIQ system is not fit for purpose if it needs to run another year. But nobody in government seems to want to fix it.