Academics call for official inquiry into New Zealand’s Covid-19 response


Academics have called for an official inquiry into New Zealand's Covid-19 response. (File image)

Ella Bates-Hermans/Stuff

Academics have called for an official inquiry into New Zealand’s Covid-19 response. (File image)

Academics at the University of Otago have urged the government to launch an official inquiry into Aotearoa’s Covid-19 pandemic response, in order to learn from mistakes.

Lead author of the Public Health Expert Blog, Professor Nick Wilson​, said New Zealand’s Covid strategy was one of the world’s most successful, but it still fell short in various ways.

While the Government had recognised the need for an inquiry, they needed to act hastily, he said.

“The time to initiate that process is now.”

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“This is not something the Government can afford to drag its feet on.”

Historically almost all sudden mass fatality events with more than ten deaths had resulted in an official inquiry, and often positive change, the academics said.

From March to August of this year there were close to more than 10 deaths per day.

Findings could help with preparations for future pandemics and other major public health threats, Wilson said.

“This needs to be done at a Royal Commission of Inquiry level and it is important a start is made while memories are clear and lessons can be learnt.”

Professor Nick Wilson from University of Otago, Wellington said the Government needed to act quickly in launching an official inquiry into the pandemic response.

Ross Giblin/Stuff

Professor Nick Wilson from University of Otago, Wellington said the Government needed to act quickly in launching an official inquiry into the pandemic response.

Wilson and other academics said the inquiry needed to focused on addressing future pandemics, rather than appointing blame.

There was also a particular need to consider equity issues, especially for Māori, Pasifika, low-income New Zealanders, those with disabilities and chronic conditions, he said.

“But so that the inquiry focuses on finding the most useful lessons, it should have a forward-looking focus and be depoliticised as much as possible.

“As such, we suggest that it should report back to Parliament after the 2023 election.”

This is not the first time an official inquiry into New Zealand’s Covid-19 epidemic response has been called for.

STUFF

PM Jacinda Ardern made the announcement on Monday afternoon.

In 2020, public health experts also requested an inquiry, to find areas for improvement and to prepare for when, not if, the next virus breaks out. Nick Wilson was also involved in the earlier suggestion.

The Government has launched official inquiries into other disasters, including the Cave Creek platform collapse, the Pike River Mine tragedy, the Ballantyne’s fire and the Aramoana mass shooting.

Notable health inquiries in recent memory include the Havelock North gastro outbreak, and the tobacco epidemic inquiry headed by the Māori Affairs Select Committee, which led to the country’s Smokefree 2025 goal being set.

The inquiry into the 1918 flu pandemic led to important public health law.

But Wilson said historical research also showed that lessons from disaster inquiries could be forgotten – with a number of repeated disasters.

“These failings may have related to the limited depth to the inquiries, insufficient follow-up legislation, and insufficient implementation and enforcement. Those are mistakes we must not repeat.”

Stuff has approached Covid-19 Response Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall for comment.



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