There needs to be greater openness from Government for New Zealand to get through this Covid-19 emergency united and able to recover from its global and economic impacts.
It is good that New Zealand is doing better than most countries. People are making enormous sacrifices to contain the virus. This community spirit will be lost if people feel they are being misled or only given selective information.
We know such secrecy compromised the response in Wuhan, China where Dr Li Wen Liang was admonished and jailed in January for disclosing early information on this deadly virus. Tragically, Dr Li died of the virus on 7 February, aged 33. Nothing in New Zealand has been as bad. It is heathy and positive that different medical experts have been publicly debating management of the virus. The pity is the lack of transparency from Government.
It was revealed last week that the Health Ministry advised the Government to close the border on 14 March. Cabinet rejected the advice. It would have been better to have first closed down the border rather than the country. The border was eventually closed but many Covid-19 cases including Nelson’s most recent, came into New Zealand during those crucial weeks in March.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly justified difficult decisions on the basis that the Government was following health official’s advice. We now know that is not true. The Government is entitled to overrule official’s advice but should do so openly. The advice from health, treasury and other officials on the Government’s decisions to raise or lower Alert Levels determine whether people can leave their home, go to work, attend school or open their business. This advice must be disclosed and not weeks or months later.
There have been similar problems with information about contact tracing and testing of Covid-19. I have had Nelson complaints over inadequate tracing. The media have reported the Ministry of Health taking 4 ½ weeks to follow up on people who had direct contact with others infected. These reports were rubbished by Government. We now know the Government had received a very critical report of its contact tracing system from experts that they chose to keep secret.
The third problem area over disclosure has been over flu vaccinations. Dozens of Nelson doctors and patients have reported to me problems over access. The Medical Association has described it as a “debacle”. The Government refused to release timely information until it became blindingly obvious that the doctors were correct.
The other area where the public has been denied relevant information is the daily brief provided to Government by the Ministry of Health on Covid-19 since January. The public has a right to this information to know what the Government knew and when.
Nobody is expecting perfect decisions in such trying circumstances. People are prepared to continue to make sacrifices for the community good and for the Government to wield enormous powers over their lives. But openness and transparency is crucial.