Ardern quiet on Gayford pharmacy claims, Seymour sees silver lining

ACT’s David Seymour says Clarke Gayford was “completely wrong” after claims surfaced the Prime Minister’s fiance told a pharmacist incorrect information while a musician friend was trying to access rapid antigen testing (RAT).

However, he commended Gayford for what he described as "support" for the tests.

“I actually think there’s a silver lining to this, that if the Government does make rapid antigen testing more widely available, it might be a win for everybody.

“I never normally bring a politician's partner into politics, but I want to commend Clarke Gayford for supporting RATs – if only he knew someone in Government who could maybe get the change done.”

It comes after a Facebook post was shared across social media late last month from a private pharmacy chat group.

“Just had a group of vaccinated musicians arrive having potentially been exposed (and) want a RAT,” the post states.

The Tauranga pharmacist said he explained to them they would need a PCR test instead. PCR tests are used in situations such as when a person has Covid-like symptoms or are a close or causal contact of a Covid case.

“As they didn’t like this they got Clarke Gayford on the phone who proceeded to tell me that there had been a change in guidance and these people should be given RAT tests – when I explained that we had not received any direction from the Ministry of Health he was very unimpressed.”

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said they had no comment to make and “referred to the statement issued on behalf of Gayford”.

1News approached Gayford’s management team for a response, but they initially refused to comment, despite a statement being provided to the NZ Herald yesterday. Six hours later a statement was sent, where Gayford apologised “for any issues or confusion this may have caused the pharmacy staff”, after he was called by a friend about rapid antigen testing and was put on speaker phone while the person was in a pharmacy.

Green Cross Health COO Alison Van Wyk told 1News the pharmacist involved "acted completely appropriately".

"Community pharmacists do a great job every day, as does this community pharmacist," she said.

Van Wyk said the pharmacist had a discussion with the customer, talked with them and made an "appropriate decision with the individual to make sure that they understood what was required, and why it was required".

"It is important to remember that was a closed community pharmacy (Facebook) group, where initial question was around the eligibility criteria.

"He asked if it had changed, that is not unusual for people to seek peer review, this happens every day through healthcare."

Political commentator Lara Greaves said it was “tricky for Clarke Gayford and it’s tricky for Jacinda Ardern when Clarke Gayford is a public personality and he will have opinions on things, and ultimately it can be used against Ardern and the Government, when what we should be talking about is Covid policy”.

“The family of the Prime Minister and the family of politicians are all private citizens, they’re allowed to have their opinions, they’re allowed to get Covid policy wrong,” she said.

"He is a public figure, he is involved in music and entertainment, so he is kind of known, and he was known before being the Prime Minister’s partner. I think he was just trying to do what he could to help out people that he knew, I think a lot of people do that generally.

“Ultimately when you’re the Prime Minister’s partner you do really have to think about how this could impact on your partner’s career, however, Clarke Gayford is a private citizen, and he is entitled to his opinions on policy.”

Changes around rapid antigen testing have been made in the last few months, with unvaccinated travellers allowed to access the tests for travel requirements over summer and some businesses able to access RATs for surveillance testing.

There was also a statement from Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall on November 25 saying RATS “will also be available to the general public at pharmacies from 15 December… a PCR test will be required to confirm any positive results”.

PCR tests are still the primary test to diagnose Covid.

“There’s a global shortage of RATs but only New Zealand has a Government making it worse with its bans,” Seymour said. “We have been held back from using RATs like no other country, Clarke Gayford has actually identified the problem."

“The problem here is that you can’t use RATs if you’re a close contact. When Omicron arrives, we’re going to have to tear up the script and behave with a very different strategy.

He said the Government’s response to testing had “created mass confusion which it seems nobody is immune to”.

Covid-19 Duty Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said the Government's Covid strategy "has been underpinned by the most up to date public health advice".

"RATs are already being used, and will have an important role to play in our testing strategy. We have stocks in New Zealand and on order, and we will be making further announcements on how they will be deployed as part of the wider Covid-19 testing strategy in the near future.

"There are four types of RATs currently used in New Zealand. The Ministry of Health has received a large volume of application for authorisation for the use of RATS and are working through these applications."