Ian Taylor’s MIQ trial: The rest of the world is moving on

OPINION:

– This is part 3 of a diary Sir Ian Taylor is providing to the Herald over the course of his travel trial.

I am not sure what I expected to find when I arrived in Los Angeles this afternoon on my flight from Auckland. The images I have seen from the golf and baseball that we now cover live from our offices in Dunedin, seem to depict a country where anything goes. No masks in sight in a country where anti-vaxxers protest in large numbers to protect their rights to freedom of choice. A country that has decided to just move on and live with Covid – whatever that meant.

But here’s what I’ve found so far, at least in LA

At LA airport, everyone wore masks. There was hand sanitation available everywhere and people social distanced, respecting everyone’s space, as we queued up at the immigration counters. Staff managed the queues to keep them flowing and I was out of the terminal within 30 minutes of leaving my plane. I was in a queue behind three young Kiwi wahine who were here to play rugby – a fact that had the customs official eating out of their hands. She even asked me if I knew them when I finally made it to the counter!

Surprisingly I was not asked to show any evidence of vaccination or a negative Covid test but equally surprising was discovering that I could take a PCR test, at the airport, and have a result in 1, 3, 12 or 24 hours, depending on what I was prepared to pay and how urgent the test was. The fee for a 1-hour test is US$125.

By comparison, the 27-minute MicroGEM PCR test I took in Dunedin cost NZ $50. The official 72-hour nasal swab test I took on the Friday before flying out cost NZ$279.

I am not sure what constraints MOH has placed on the provision of certified PCR test providers but hopefully this example, that is clearly meeting a need, could be used as a model in New Zealand to alleviate the growing concerns around the time it is taking to get results. I experienced that first-hand on Monday.

Driving to my hotel, my Uber driver was fully masked, there was hand sanitation available in the back of the car and I was required to wear a mask throughout the journey. Not exactly the vision I had imagined from the stories I read back home.

At the hotel, all check-in staff were masked, and I noticed that hand sanitation units were attached to the lifts, beside the buttons you pushed to go to your floor. Practical signs of what needs to be done once you have decided to live with Covid in the community.

Tomorrow I am heading over to Fox Studios for the first of my meetings. Before leaving New Zealand, I received email notification that Fox requires everyone who enters their premises to either be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test result. They also advised that individuals are considered to be “fully vaccinated” two weeks after receiving the second dose in a two-dose Covid-19 vaccine series, or two weeks after one dose of the single-dose Covid-19 vaccine. Really clear communication of what is expected and recognition of the different vaccines that are readily available here.

They also noted that unvaccinated visitors or workers are not excluded from the premises, but they have to be tested every day that they are on site. Anyone, vaccinated or unvaccinated, wanting a test could do so, and Fox pays for it. Masks are required to be worn for the duration of the visit.

As this trip grew closer I have to confess to a growing level of trepidation. This was the US I was going to visit!. There were times recently where I asked myself why I would do something like this if I didn’t need to. I know it’s early days but I have to admit that I have been surprised by how safe I feel.

I may of course change my mind – but that’s what happens as you gather evidence from a trial.

And of course, I may also catch Covid, but medical experts are now telling us that is something we should all expect. How we handle that is now what’s important.

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