National | Covid-19 Testing

Sir Ian Taylor 'depressed by government incompetence' on Covid testing

Ngāti Kahungunu & Ngāpuhi businessman Sir Ian Taylor is concerned many employers are missing out on rapid antigen tests (RATs), saying this could have dire effects on the country's economic recovery.

The rollout of rapid antigen tests (RATs), began this week, starting in Auckland and now moving to the Waikato, to stop Covid-19 testing centres from being overwhelmed. The quick but less accurate tests are available from testing sites, for priority populations, and critical workers.

Taylor tells Te Ao Tapatahi the rest of the world has been using RATs overseas for over a year and a half and thinks Health director-general Dr Ashley Bloomfield made the wrong decision in banning RATs from the New Zealand testing tool kit for the past two years.

“I think that it’s just remarkable to see the Ministry of Health ban RATs to now replacing PCR tests with RATs. It just doesn't make any sense and it's just another sign of the whole confusion around testing. Testing should be a real priority.”

Taylor points out that the government has taken over every business’s health and safety in the country and says New Zealand could have prioritised RATs long ago.

'Everyone is essential'

“It’s really a major issue and the reason we can't get them is that the government never made them a priority until a few weeks ago,” he says.

The restricted number of RATs available is due to the government banning of RATs and the late adoption and order of the tests has led to the government deciding who is essential and critical. “Everyone is essential, everyone is critical and, unless they change their isolation and self-isolation rules, businesses are not going to test or they are going to be really stuck with staff being off work”

“We can look at what it's done wrong or we can get it to fix it and Foodstuffs has offered to fly in millions of these tests. It's really difficult to get in this huge queue of buying RATs. All Foodstuffs needs from the government is to say that they are not banning RATs and leave them with a factory full of them.”

Taylor says that the past few years have shown the government is ill-equipped to move at the speeds that are required. He also thinks that by taking over every step of handling the pandemic the government has shown that it doesn’t trust business.

'Easiest border to protect'

“This was the easiest country in the world to protect, this was the easiest border to protect, and we should have been talking about saving lives and livelihoods that will be damaged for years to come. It's still something to be seen but it's going to be huge”.

Taylor says when he started his endeavours in finding new tests for New Zealand he was hopeful but soon discovered there was resistance. “I guess I was naïve. It's been depressing to see the incompetence right across the board and the failure to acknowledge mistakes."

“We had a chance to have a PCR test that you would have an hour before you got on the flight coming to New Zealand that meant that everyone coming to New Zealand would have been negative an hour before they got on the plane.”

Big role for RATs

“This could have been the safest country in the world. We could have been back working and we probably would have missed the lockdown in Auckland.”

Taylor still believes testing is the most important avenue even after having met the vaccination mark of 90% double vax. “What vaccines do is help you not to be so sick. Testing tells you you don’t have it. Teachers, nurses, and doctors, all they needed to do, every day was take a rapid antigen test an hour before they went to work.”

Taylor is positive the inaccuracy of the RATs is not a problem because of the consistency of the testing. “Our team overseas test two to three times a week and if they get a positive they then get a PCR test. If you use them regularly they have a big role to play."