At last. A review that everyone can agree on.
The review of the Covid-19 response announced today by the Government makes so much sense, it is a wonder it wasn’t done ages ago.
It sounds cumbersome: the Covid-19 Independent Continuous Review, Improvement and Advice Group.
In fact, it has been set up to provide more urgency to address the myriad of problems facing New Zealand’s response.
The most important word in the cumbersome title of the review is the word “continuous”.
The second most important are the words “Brian Roche”.
He will be responsible for an ongoing assessment of the Government’s Covid-19 response, starting with a review of the recent Valentine’s Day cluster which shut down Auckland for three days then seven days.
Roche doesn’t muck around. He knows the health sector intimately from previous reviews, and he particularly knows the Covid-19 response environment. It makes sense to give this review to an expert.
He knows business well and how it is impacted by Covid-19 and he knows his way around the infrastructure and political imperatives of government, having been a go-to guy for successive administrations.
The set-up of this review means he and his team will be able to act quickly and make rolling recommendations once they determine where changes should be made.
For example, the continuous review won’t have to wait for the whole Valentine’s Day review to be completed before making the most obvious recommendations such as:
• simplifying the categories of contacts
• making recommendations about simplifying communications to affected communities
• requiring door-knocks of contacts who haven’t responded to messages
• questioning the practice of police to stop every single car heading into a lockdown area
• questioning whether the whole of Auckland needs to be locked down
Having Rob Fyfe as part of a continuous review is a perfect choice with him having already been a pivotal intermediary during last year’s lockdown between business and Government.
Having Professor Phillip Hill on board is a good choice too. He may not have the television experience of fellow epidemiologists Professor Michael Baker or Sir David Skeggs but he added professional grunt to Roche’s last report to Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins.
Their secretariat is the Covid-19 unit in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, meaning it will have a direct contact with the most influential people affecting government policy.
Any workforce or policy which is criticised by the review will get a right of reply before decisions are made.
But there will be no excuse for the Government to repeat last year’s decision to sit on a highly critical report until just before Christmas.
New Zealand’s Covid-19 landscape is littered with reviews either completed or under way – including the Verrall report into contact tracing, the early review of managed isolation, several by the Office of the Auditor General (including into PPE, Government expenditure of the $62 billion Covid fund, the vaccination rollout); the Christchurch-commissioned report into the Sudima hotel; the report into the implementation of the Surveillance Plan and Testing Strategy; and the Pullman Hotel assessment.
There is one disturbing paragraph in the terms of reference of the review group published today in which it suggests that Roche has to ask Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins before he can make a public statement.
But Hipkins’ office says that Roche will be independent and will not need permission before speaking -he will be asked to simply inform the minister on a “no surprises” basis before making public statements.
The National Party spent much of the first term of this Government complaining about the number of reviews the Government had set up. Covid has demanded a shift and, as recently as Sunday, National was calling for a formal review of the latest lockdown.
It has got what it asked for and so much more.
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