9 Mar 2021

Covid-19: Independent group set up to advise govt on response to pandemic

7:48 pm on 9 March 2021

An independent advisory group is being established to ensure the government continues to improve its response to the pandemic.

Chris Hipkins

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins (file photo). Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the new group, chaired by Sir Bryan Roche, would formalise the ongoing approach to ensure the government continues to learn and adapt.

"Throughout our response to the unprecedented challenges posed by Covid-19 we have been committed to continual improvement, and independent advice has been a really important part of that process.

Other group members include Rob Fyfe, Dr Debbie Ryan, Professor Phillip Hill, and Dr Dale Bramley.

As well as monitoring the implementation of previous reviews on contact tracing and the testing strategy, Hipkins said the group would provide impartial advice on the performance and impact of the whole system.

"It will also provide assurances on the performance and settings of managed isolation and quarantine facilities, and on planning for an outbreak, and will review public communications and responses in the community.

Hipkins said one of the group's first priorities would be reviewing the recent outbreak in South Auckland.

"I imagine as they look at this most recent response there will undoubtedly be things that can be improved for next time and that's exactly what we want them to do.

"I've already foreshadowed some of the things I want them to look at, like whether having four different categories of contacts was helpful or a hindrance", he said.

National's Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop said this was a positive but well overdue step.

"This is something that many people have been asking for for some time.

"This most recent cluster as well, there's some serious questions around the communication that the government engaged with. So it feels a little bit like a response to the most recent events, but also a bit of a catch all for the generic government response and that's a positive thing".

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rejected the suggestion the group was being established because of concerns about the handling of the recent outbreak.

"It's something we've been discussing for some time.

"Rather than have those groups pulled together on an ad hoc basis, because you'll remember we pulled together a group that did work on contact tracing, it actually makes sense to have a group where we are doing constant improvement work", she said.

Chair Sir Brian Roche - who last year reviewed the contact tracing and testing system - said they would be looking at the system as a whole.

"The individual parts are important, but the system perspective is critical because each element becomes inter-dependent.

"So I think it has considerable merit to think at it from a systems perspective, not just an individual process".

He said he expected the group would be able to give advice much faster, perhaps even making recommendations while an outbreak was still active.

"There's this desire from an operating perspective that the advice and perspective is more real time. That's appealing because the sooner you can bring ideas forward and have them implemented then the sooner the improvements are made," he said.

Sir Brian said they hoped to report back with their findings and any recommendations on the Valentine's Day Cluster in the next few weeks.

"There are always lessons to be had. It did deliver a very good outcome, but for a number of people there were frustrations about communications and complications and so we'll be looking to work with those people to get the system to operate as best as it possibly can," he said.

National Party leader Judith Collins said she was "really pleased for the country" that this group was being established.

"I think we need it. After a year of Covid in the country it's good to finally see them taking that advice.

"I think it could have been done before, but I think we should give credit where it's due, and we've finally got this and that's excellent", she said.

The group will start work on 15 March with a term through to 1 June 2022.

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