Friday, 14 August 2020

Public Sector Reasons

There's a standard list of things that the public service will point to when it just doesn't want to do something. Maybe there are privacy considerations. Maybe it's complicated. Maybe there are difficult intersections with employment law. They'll pick whatever seems most plausible from the list and patiently explain why something that seems an obvious good idea just can't be done.

We heard a fair bit of that around making COVID testing a job requirement for those at the border and in MIQ. It's too hard. You can't change people's employment contracts. You can't compel medical treatment - what, are you going to hold them down and force a stick up their nose?

But there's a problem with all of the excuse making.

The problem is simple. Section 11 of the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020, assented to 13 May 2020, at Subsection 1, details the orders the Minister or the Director-General may make. The DG may make these orders if they are urgently needed and are the most appropriate way of addressing these matters. (Section 10). 

Subsection 1(a)(viii) allows the Director General of Health to require persons to:

report for and undergo a medical examination or testing of any kind, and at any place or time, specified and in any specified way or specified circumstances:

That means the DG Health, Ashley Bloomfield, at any point could have issued an order requiring testing of MIQ and border staff if he thought it warranted. 

It would have been most obviously included in the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Air Border) Order 2020 at Section 7

Section 7 includes a set of Obligations for arrivals that requires each person arriving in NZ by air other than those excluded to (at 1(a)) 

"report for, and submit to, medical examination and testing, as soon as practicable after their arrival, at the security designated aerodrome at which they arrive"

Don't you love how they call it an aerodrome? It's cute. 

Section (c) requires those arriving to report for and submit medical examination and testing as required while in isolation or quarantine. 

It would have been pretty easy to add in a couple lines requiring every person dealing with anyone who is arriving into New Zealand, whether they are airline staff, airport staff, customs officials, contractors of any of those, bus drivers, or employees at managed isolation and quarantine facilities, also to report for and submit to testing at least once a week. 

Whatever arguments people want to make about it being hard to add into employment contracts or whatever, it's just public sector bullshit. Everything can be overridden by a Public Health Order. And it wasn't done.

The government chose to have this outbreak. 

But it isn't just a failure of the political side of government. 

If Bloomfield had felt it was warranted, as DG Health, he could have issued the order anyway, unless I'm really misreading Section 10. There might be a bit of finagling where Section 10 allows orders that apply only within a single territorial authority district, but requiring it even only in Auckland would have been a substantial improvement.

It'll be an interesting standup at 1 PM. 

Update: Obviously, I'm not in favour of holding staff down and putting a stick up their nose. I am very very very much in favour of firing* each and every MIQ or border staffer who expressed the slightest reluctance about testing, because muppets who do not understand risk and who are unwilling to experience even the slightest inconvenience as part of reducing risk are the very last people you want anywhere near this particular risk. They will cut other corners the second you are not looking. 


* or redeploying elsewhere in the system, or shooting out of a very large cannon pointed very far away from New Zealand. 

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