New Zealand’s health system was poorly prepared to handle Delta, Sir Brian Roche told the Government in a September report.
Despite that, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson maintained the country’s hospitals were preparing for the Covid-19 variant between when it was detected at the end of 2020 and the latest outbreak in August.
Sir Brian, chair of the independent Covid-19 improvement and advice group, noted in the report there was a "real need for pace and urgency", with the Delta outbreak revealing limitations of the way the system could respond, manage and stamp out Covid.
"Were a larger outbreak to occur in the near future, there is real risk of our systems, infrastructures and workforce being overwhelmed."
He said the Delta outbreak “has revealed the very poor level of preparedness of hospitals for Delta”.
“Auckland, which has a large and Covid-19 prepared health system relative to the rest of New Zealand, has essentially been stretched to capacity.”
The report also noted a decline in goodwill and tolerance in the public to lockdowns and border closures. It added, however, that the health system didn't have the health infrastructure to cope without lockdowns.
It also reiterated gaps in addressing the impacts of Covid-19 on Māori and Pasifika.
"The need to meet Māori vaccination needs is a matter of utmost urgency," it said, adding there was a good opportunity for Māori leaders to "design and develop an urgent way forward that is fully backed by Government".
"Vaccination coverage will need to be well over 90 per cent, and it is clear that our New Zealand vaccination programme is failing certain populations, most notably Māori, who are at higher risk of serious disease and death than non-Māori.
"Addressing such disparities is an urgent priority."
The report also noted that rapid antigen testing was “critical” to the country’s surveillance strategy going forward and that a fit-for-purpose plan was needed for alternatives to MIQ.
Robertson said that changes had been made since September when the report was released.
This included numerous announcements on Thursday for extra funding for people self-isolating and Covid-19 medicines, and greater use of rapid antigen testing, Robertson said.
The Government also established a $120 million fund to accelerate Māori vaccination rates in October.
However, overall Māori vaccination rates continue to lag behind other ethnicities in every DHB.
“The [health] system was preparing itself … they have been in a period of continuous development, improvement, and preparation,” Robertson said.
He said Sir Brian was free to give his “free and frank” assessment of New Zealand’s health system.
“He’s entitled to his view. What we’re focusing on, having received his report, is we go back to the DHBs, and we make sure that we work with them to address the issues that were raised.”