2 Sep 2021

'Low-trust' approach needs to be taken to workers crossing Auckland borders, Des Gorman says

11:25 am on 2 September 2021

A medical expert says not enough safety precautions are being taken with those crossing the border south of Auckland and it needs to operate as a "low-trust environment".

A police checkpoint in Mercer, near Auckland's border with Waikato.

A police checkpoint in Mercer, near Auckland's border with Waikato, on 1 September. Photo: RNZ/Nick Monro

Twenty-three thousand people with exemptions drove out of the city's Covid-19 alert level 4 lockdown yesterday.

While police reported few problems, University of Auckland emeritus professor of medicine Des Gorman told Morning Report more health precautions were needed.

"We're dealing with a very infectious virus and I don't think that's an environment where we should assume that a truck driver will go from point A to point B and not call in to see somebody or not stop on the side of the road, not interact with people, I mean what we've done is we've actually paid the price for having a high-trust environment," Gorman said.

"I think we need to have a low-trust environment."

Gorman said all people crossing the border should be required to be vaccinated.

"I think they need to be wearing masks - and not just masks - if you walk around you look at the way people wear masks, I think more than half are wearing them improperly.

"I think they need fitted N-95 masks, and I'd go further than that. I think if you look at the way in which our testing and tracing capability was overwhelmed in the first day of this outbreak, we need to take measures around testing and tracing of essential workers and people crossing the border.

"My recommendation would be they should do daily saliva-based tests, whether it's rapid antigen or PCR would be preferable … we should be testing them every day.

"The other thing in terms of connectivity - we've got phone technology which enables us to trace people in real time, we should be using it.

"Yeah, look, I think we have to be living in a low-trust environment. I ... actually think we need to know exactly where they are and when they are, and that's why I think we should be using continual phone tracking.

"Daily testing is a very sensible thing to do because it enables you to quickly close down any outbreaks... Bluetooth hasn't worked as you know ... look telcos can provide continuous tracking their people by their phones already. All that's required is employers' contact for telcos and actually people agree."

Gorman acknowledged there were privacy issues to be considered, but said "we're going to be having some very difficult conversations from now on because in fact there's going to be a whole series of measures we'll need to talk if we are to have the mobility that we desire.

"I think we haven't got our head around the fact yet that with mobility is going to come with some concessions and those concessions will be around tracking, testing and surveillance.

"My concern is this. We went into this outbreak. We had eight months to prepare. We weren't prepared.

"Right now we've got a 4 versus 3 boundary, which is not … a huge concern, but the time to get the systems in place … is right now, not after it's occurred.

"We've been too reactive for the last 18 months."

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