Yesterday at midday Auckland moved to LEVEL 3 on the COVID19 Alert scale, whilst the rest of New Zealand moved to LEVEL 2. The effective shutting down of Auckland and the restrictions placed on the rest of the country came as authorities scrambled to find out how four members of a single family came to have COVID19. But in the hours before the shut down took effect it became obvious that the Ministry of Health somehow failed to realize that thousands of New Zealanders would be wanting COVID19 testing in the very near future, as testing sites were completely swamped by hordes of cars and people on foot.
I drove out to the Pages Road site in Wainoni in eastern Christchurch, arriving about 1100 hours. The number of cars immediately told me that there was no way I was going to get a test before it closed at 1300 hours. The Whanau Ora centre has a driveway about 50-100 metres long and the line of cars waiting was backed up all the way up the drive, on to Pages Road, down to the Shortland Street corner and as far as I could see down Shortland Street. More critically it was not moving and did not move in the five minutes it took me to contact my medical centre, ask them for a COVID19 nurse to ring me back, and take their call.
I have no idea how busy the other Christchurch site at 24 Hour Surgery on Bealey Ave was, as they only took appointments. Driving past I did not notice any significant queuing in either their Madras Street or Bealey Ave entrances.
Contacts on Twitter told me that the actual procedure was over in two minutes. They also said that results were generally returned in 18-24 hours
Whilst I accept that the Ministry of Health might not have anticipated the sheer number of people who would be wanting tests done, I find it hard to believe that their logistical staff did not appear to have done any fore planning. If they had, it might have been noted that New Zealanders, within good reason are pretty good at complying with official requests, and would have had no problems with the requests to turn up. On that basis their intelligence and associated planning should have allowed for at least one or two more centres in Christchurch to have COVID19 testing sites set up. A city of nearly 400,000 people would have no problems swamping the two clinics that were established.
And that was not just Christchurch. In Auckland – and I imagine Wellington, Hamilton, Dunedin, Napier-Hastings and other cities – similar scenes were repeated, especially in southern suburbs. Given that this change in the alert level is going to remain in force until sometime on Friday, or possibly later, Ministry of Health should be urgently looking at their site reports and determining what extra resources they need to allocate.
In failing to anticipate the surge of testing that would be needed, despite having made available the means for 50,000 tests to be done before the end of Friday, the Ministry has missed an opportunity to undo some of the criticism that has been levelled against it in the last few months. Will they learn from this in anticipation that this may happen again before the end of the year?