Today Lobby New Zealand condemns the decision taken by the New Zealand Government and Ministry of Health to airlift into New Zealand a Fijian-based UNDP official who has contracted COVID-19.

The request, which was initially rejected by the Ministry of Health this week after following advice from ICU directors of the three Auckland District Health Boards, has since been granted. It is understood that bosses at Middlemore Hospital stressed to the Ministry that they would be unable to provide adequate care for the UNDP patient, as there is no sufficient capacity to do so. Middlemore officials also exhibited health concerns due to the outbreak of the deadly RSV virus in the hospital and surrounding community, putting strained pressure on the hospital and health system. It is also understood that the UNDP patient has the ultra-transmissible ‘Delta’ COVID-19 strain.

Lobby New Zealand understands that this decision was overturned in part due to the influence of former New Zealand Prime Minister, and former head of the UNDP, Helen Clark. It is believed Clark intervened after the Ministry of Health rejected the request earlier this week, lobbying on behalf of the UN for the Ministry to overturn their decision.

It sets a dangerous precedent when we allow former Prime Ministers, and public individuals of interest to successfully lobby Ministry officials into making decisions that endanger public health in New Zealand. Helen Clark holds no elected office in New Zealand, nor at the UN. Helen Clark is not a Medical Doctor, and she does not have any role within the Ministry of Health. New Zealanders put a stop to her making powerful decisions within its country in 2008.

As we have seen in both Australia and Fiji, initial success in response to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic does not equal continued success, as one community case of COVID-19 can lead to a large and deadly outbreak. It is not sensical for the Ministry of Health to give preferential to one COVID-19 patient with the highly transmissible Delta variant. In making this decision we are risking exposure of COVID-19 to ill patients at Middlemore Hospital, which is already operating under near-capacity. We are also risking the health of the UNDP patient, as the highly transmissible RSV virus is ever-present within Middlemore.

Lobby New Zealand fully supports any potential offerings of Foreign Aid to Fiji, as it isbone of our closest partners and is in desperate need of help during this time, however, it will not support a precedent where assistance is offered to an individual via virtue of UN interference, and for associates of Helen Clark. Lobby New Zealand supports the call of Dr Collin Tukuitonga, who said; “If New Zealand really wanted to help, more medical staff should be sent to Fiji to help train and support those dealing with the situation there – not bringing the patient to New Zealand. We’re trying to keep the risk out. We can’t totally predict what the Delta variant will do. I think it’s unacceptable.”

Lobby New Zealand condemns the Ministry of Health’s decision, as it should not let former Prime Ministers influence its officials in decisions of such magnitude to public health, creating unnecessary risk for an already struggling health system.

Photo: New Zealand Herald

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