11 Nov 2021

The day in review: Covid-19 developments on 11 November

7:58 pm on 11 November 2021

The pressure's on across the board today - on the Ministry of Health, on the Managed Isolation and Quarantine system, and on thousands of workers who fall under the vaccine mandate but haven't been immunised with only days left.

Covid wrap 11 November

The saliva testing programme has faced criticism today, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has spoken of the challenges faced by MIQ - where staff are reporting increasing abuse, and there are only days left before the vaccine mandate deadline. Photo: 123RF / RNZ

We'll get into all that soon, but first up, let's get the daily figures out of the way.

There were 185 new community cases of Covid-19 reported today, including 25 in Waikato and eight in Northland.

There are 81 cases in hospital - and it's worth noting that more than half of those are unvaccinated.

While we're on the subject of being unvaccinated, data leaked from midwives shows hundreds of pregnant people in Te Tai Tokerau (Northland) have not been immunised.

With no news briefing on the coronavirus from the government today and no other major Covid-19 response-related announcements, let's dive into the rest of the day's developments - there are still a lot.

Chaos for firefighter rosters

We just mentioned that hundreds of pregnant Northlanders aren't vaccinated, but firefighters are facing a vaccination issue too.

The professional firefighters' union is warning there will not be enough crews left for callouts when the Covid-19 vaccine mandate kicks in next week.

Fire and Emergency is requiring 13,000 staff or volunteers to be vaccinated to do their jobs after the 15 November deadline.

The union estimates this may keep 10 percent off the frontline, from car crashes as well as fires.

"This is the crisis as of midnight on the 15th," the union's national secretary Wattie Watson said.

"Fenz, in our view, will not be able to maintain the current level of response due to the number of firefighters, both career and volunteer, that are either unvaccinated or their vaccination status is not known."

It's closing in on crunch time for other sectors too, with the vaccination mandate deadline set on 15 November - early next week.

For example, about 4000 district health board workers have not yet been vaccinated, just a few days before the no jab no job deadline.

More vaccination issues

On a different vaccine-related note, the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency (WOCA) is going back to court to again try and get data from the Ministry of Health on unvaccinated Māori.

The agency has had its request for the information - to create a better rollout for Māori - rejected by the ministry for privacy reasons.

The latest rejection followed a High Court ruling that the ministry must reconsider its refusal to release the data taking into account its Te Tiriti o Waitangi obligations.

And in more vaccine news, views on the mandate have resulted in a DHB member resigning following an email she sent to Countdown supermarket, criticising its vaccine mandate proposal.

The email was set up to seek staff feedback on a proposal to require all the grocer's employees to be vaccinated by mid-January.

Ilka Beekhuis had written to Countdown, identifying herself as a "publicly-elected official of the Southern DHB".

In a statement released this afternoon, she said it was a personal decision to resign and she won't comment further.

MIQ under pressure

After reports of MIQ staff facing increasing violence, government ministers say the system is under pressure - and the coming shift to shorter stays will be a crunch point.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins today said MIQ had been a challenging concept right from the beginning for some of those going into it.

"There are certainly people in MIQ who don't want to be there whether they're coming in internationally or whether they're coming in from the community, and that does put the people who work there under quite a lot of pressure."

He acknowledged pressures in MIQ were only being added to by the Delta outbreak.

"We do find in MIQ that those who are being quarantined from the community often at short notice without much time to ... psychologically prepare do find that a difficult shift, so we do find that it's a more challenging cohort to deal with. Now, I don't want to cast complete generalisations there because there are people who are very grateful for the opportunity to go into MIQ as well."

He said the home isolation system had been set up "very quickly" which had put the system under further pressure.

Hipkins said MIQ was gearing also up for the shift to seven-day isolation for incoming travellers, which was also increasing pressure on the system.

Staff at MIQ hotels report increased violence

Following up that update, staff in MIQ hotels are being told not to walk alone - and getting security escorts to visit certain guests - because of an increased risk of violence.

Their unions say they're being lashed out at, and abused through the hotel phones.

A health and safety report presented to the board of Counties Manukau DHB yesterday noted the MIQ hotels were housing a higher rate of people with substance dependence and other social issues, as more Covid-19 community cases were placed in quarantine.

It said there were now fewer health staff supporting them, as resources pulled from health boards around the country in September go back to their own work areas.

The remainder were reporting more violence and aggression from guests.

Auditor-General takes aim at MOH

The MIQ system isn't the only thing under pressure.

Auditor-General John Ryan has criticised the Health Ministry for failing to deal with potential conflicts of interest in its handling of the $50 million Covid-19 saliva testing contract, which was pushed through without an adequate procurement process.

In news this afternoon, Ryan said enquiries by his office revealed there was no procurement plan or independent audit before the contract was awarded to the Asia Pacific Healthcare Group in May.

Four of the five panel members indicated potential conflicts of interest, including past and current employment relationships with organisations tendering for the contract.

He acknowledged that a procured plan was not required every time and in this case, the ministry considered "the procurement was urgent".

"However, we would have expected a procurement plan to be prepared for a contract worth more than $50 million and for an important subject such as this," he wrote.

Find out more here.

Mixed reaction to school decision

The government's decision to let 200,000 Auckland children return to school next week for the first time in three months has prompted a mixture of delight, relief, and worry.

Delight from children in Years 0-10 who can't wait to return to class, relief from parents worn down by weeks of home learning, and a degree of worry from both groups about the change.

Meanwhile, teachers and principals in alert level 3 areas now have to figure out how they can reopen within parameters set by the Education Ministry.

The rules include keeping children in separate, stable groups that don't mingle, using physical distancing where practical, and requiring faces masks inside for children in Year 4 and above.

The rules apply to all schools in level 3 regions, which currently includes parts of Waikato, and are expected to result in most schools rostering children home on some days or allowing staggered attendance.

Tamaki back in the firing line

An iwi that Brian Tamaki descends from are calling him out to say he is putting Māori communities at risk.

follows mass protests across the country on Tuesday organised by a freedom group set up by Tamaki opposing vaccines and lockdown restrictions.

Te Rūnanganui o Ngāti Hikairo located between Kāwhia and Te Awamutu were especially concerned with the number of young tamariki involved in the rallies.

They said Tāmaki, who was one of their own, was asking Māori communities to undermine science, putting their people at risk.

They have now called on the Destiny Church leader to take a whānau-first approach.

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