For months the country has been told our health system is being stress-tested in preparation for a bigger and nastier Covid outbreak in the future. But barely a week into our latest lockdown, the cracks are already showing, writes political editor Jo Moir.

Analysis: Effective contact tracing makes or breaks a Covid response – evidenced time and time again in outbreaks both here and across the ditch.

It’s been a focus of several reviews and reports, most recently one done by an independent advisory group led by Sir Brian Roche into the February Valentine’s Day cluster.

In that report, health experts found the Ministry of Health saw little need for stress-testing and was reluctant around increasing surge capacity for contact tracing.

The Ministry of Health says surge capacity can trace and call 6000 new contacts a day and its standing capacity is 3000 new contacts a day.

Yet in eight days of lockdown just under 13,000 contacts have been reached, which is roughly half of the standing capacity and nowhere near surge.

So far 20,000 contacts have been identified and that number is growing while tracers rush to find the 7000 already identified but not yet reached.

More importantly, it’s still unknown whether the 7000 who haven’t yet been reached are isolating at home or are a mixture of essential workers out and about stacking supermarket shelves, testing and vaccinating the public, and caring for hospital patients.

Either the Ministry of Health did little to no scenario-planning or wildly overestimated its own abilities.

Meeting surge capacity isn’t just some gold standard target to make the Government and health officials feel a sense of achievement, it’s pivotal to ensuring lockdown is actually working and Delta is being stamped out.

Based on the woefully low current capacity of contact tracers, not to mention the fact 600 contact tracers are being sought in the middle of an outbreak, it’s difficult to see what stress-testing was carried out ahead of Delta arriving.

On Wednesday, Director-General of Health Doctor Ashley Bloomfield told Newsroom, “You never know quite how an outbreak is going to unfold.’’

While that’s true, the whole point of scenario-planning is to run some options.

One of those options, presumably, would be that the net would need to be cast wider on contacts, based on the well-documented fast transmission rate of Delta.

Yet, contact tracing isn’t even surging at this point, in fact it’s not even anywhere near the expected standing capacity.

Either the Ministry of Health did little to no scenario-planning or wildly overestimated its own abilities.

But it’s not just contact tracing raising red flags.

It’s becoming increasingly unclear what exactly about this outbreak was planned for.

It’s great news that vaccinations have ramped up impressively in recent days to hit 80,000 but before lockdown the country had only once hit 50,000 daily vaccinations.

There’s been capacity for 50,000 doses a day since mid-July but pharmacies and GP clinics hadn’t been processed to start administering Pfizer.

That led to weeks of “onboarding’’ where vaccinations were available but they were sitting in the freezer.

Consequently, the vaccine rollout has now only ramped up once a Delta outbreak has already struck and frontline health workers are stretched trying to both vaccinate and test for Covid at the same time.

In some cases that’s lead to multiple days of lining up in queues to get tested at the same time the country is trying to stamp out the virus.

Knowledge is power and contacts of positive cases not getting tested immediately makes it difficult to gauge how big the outbreak is and, in some cases, results in more people getting infected.

In addition to that there’s now issues of people who have tested positive not being moved into quarantine.

Bloomfield told media on Wednesday it wasn’t a capacity issue at Jet Park, rather a transport problem of not having enough drivers and vehicles to pick up the new cases and take them to quarantine.

It’s becoming increasingly unclear what exactly about this outbreak was planned for.

Public walkways sharing the same airspace as MIQ facilities didn’t ring any alarm bells for those auditing the Crowne Plaza in June.

One of those walkways is now hurriedly being enclosed before the new cohort of returnees move into the facility on Thursday.

The risks associated with the public walkway didn’t unexpectedly spring up – Newsroom first raised it more than a month ago and alerted those running the MIQ facilities.

When Newsroom asked Bloomfield on Wednesday what exactly the ministry had been preparing for, he responded, “exactly this sort of situation, and that’s why you can see the system is delivering at a much greater level than it might have in the past’’.

While the vaccination rate is hitting new records it’s difficult to see which other parts of the system are performing at that “much greater level’’.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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