Happier times. The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern with the Director General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield on their way to their daily lockdown press conference in the Beehive Theatrette on May 6.

Less than half of the general practitioners surveyed by the University of Auckland believed they have had good support from the Ministry of Health during the Covid-19 crisis.

The news comes as the Prime Minister is forced to defend her Government’s record on Covid-19 by publicly questioning the Ministry’s Covid-19 testing performance .

The survey is part of an international collaboration to measure the impact of the pandemic on GPs.

This research is part of a collaboration between the University of Auckland with the University of Colorado, US;  the University of British Columbia, Canada; and the Australian National University. The NZ survey is supported by the College of GPs and Primary Healthcare organisations.

Both in the US and New Zealand, the number of doctors participating is relatively small, but the results here were not good for the Ministry.

“Less than half (43%) (of the GPs) felt supported by the Ministry of Health, and a minority by their DHB (25%), “ it found.

And the Prime Minister over the past two days has shown no hesitation in publicly revealing the Ministry’s failings.

Yesterday she revealed they had failed to carry out their own testing instructions.

“At the beginning of June, my office sought to confirm the testing that was taking place at alert level 1, including high-risk areas,” she said.

“ On June 5, the Ministry of Health emailed a response stating, ‘Testing of people entering New Zealand will commence in the week of June 8 2020. These people will be tested at day three and day 12 of their stay in the managed isolation facilities. Approximately 3,000 tests will be undertaken of these people, including those who are already in the facility.’

“On June 8, the same advice was provided to Cabinet in an update from the Ministry of Health.

“On June 9, the Ministry of Health released a press release which stated, “From today, everyone in managed isolation will be tested twice for COVID-19 and will require a negative test before they leave.

“Those in quarantine were already being tested as they had shown prior symptoms.”

The Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, continued to maintain this was the situation at his daily press conference at 1.00 p.m. yesterday.

So since June the ninth, we have rolled out the testing and managed isolation facilities at around day three and around day twelve of people’s stay,” he said.

But an hour later, under questioning in Parliament from Opposition Leader, Todd Muller, the Prime Minister said: “What was meant to be happening wasn’t, and that is something that we’ve been very open about and have worked decisively to correct.”

That working “decisively” was centred around a Health Order issued on Monday which, in the words of the primeMinister, was intended to make it “crystal clear” that people would be tested on day three after their arrival in New Zealand; again on day 12 and not released from isolation or quarantine until that final test was found to be negative.

The Order was a tacit acknowledgment that, despite what Bloomfield kept repeating,  the testing had not been taking place.

Bloomfield, however, argued yesterday that the fact that people had been in isolation or quarantine for 14 days without showing any Covid-19 symptoms was sufficient to have confidence that they did not have the disease.

The fourteen days has got room at the end,” he said.

“Ninety-nine per cent of people, if they’re going to show the infection, will have done it by day eleven or twelve.

“So there’s already room built into that.”

There does appear to have been questions at the Ministry as to whether they could legally force people to have tests when they were in isolation as they advised on the Cabinet was the case on June 8..

Eight days after that advice, on June 16 when the Ministry became aware of the two British women who left an isolation facility in Auckland and drove to Wellington without having been tested at all, Bloomfield decided to remind facilities of the need to check.

Before he sent the reminder email, it seems he may have had doubts as to whether he had the power to do this.

] had checked with my chief legal adviser that I could, in my opinion, consider that someone was not deemed to be a low risk unless they had returned a negative test as well as a health check,” he said.

“Some of them were not tested; that’s right.

“And it’s why as an extra precaution on top of the 14 days we’re doing a follow-up phone call, and if they  haven’t  been tested, we’re asking them to be tested.”

It may be that it was only that legal advice on June 18 and the consequent email that day that finally convinced staff at the various isolation facilities that testing was mandatory.

Muller appeared to confirm that when he asked the Prime Minister in Parliament why a person in managed isolation on June 18 June could receive a Ministry of Health form saying that they had the right to refuse a COVID test, with a stapled overlay saying that testing was now compulsory?

Ardern simply said, “It always was.”

That was what she had been told by the Ministry of Health on June 8, but it seems its Director-General was not so sure.

Bloomfield was obviously worried about how his instructions were being interpreted at the facilities.

“It was just a breakdown in communication,” he said.

“That’s what I clarified last week.

“And so everyone who has arrived since the 16th will have needed to return a negative test.”

But maybe it was not so straightforward which is why a new Health Order was issued at midnight on  Monday June 22 clarifying that testing was mandatory.

“That’s made clear in the new order, which came into effect yesterday, that the testing at day three and around day 12 is a requirement of managed isolation.”

The events since June 16 have not been good for the Government. They have, however, been even worse for the Ministry.

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