'Unacceptable' Pasifika people asked for passports at COVID-19 vaccination centres - Ayesha Verrall

The DHB last night apologised to the Pasifika community for the error.
The DHB last night apologised to the Pasifika community for the error. Photo credit: Getty Images

Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall says it is "unacceptable" that members of the Pasifika community were asked for passports at COVID-19 vaccination appointments in the Bay of Plenty.

The DHB last night apologised to the Pasifika community, and acknowledged the impact it had on the Pasifika community's trust and confidence.

"I can't imagine what the reason for asking for that would be," Verrall told Morning Report.

"It certainly makes the people who we're calling to come in for vaccinations feel unwelcome and stigmatised and it should not happen.

"No-one needs to bring their passport to get a vaccine or for any other interaction with the COVID response whether its testing, contact tracing or vaccination.

"We want everyone to be protected by the public health response irrespective of your immigration status."

Verrall said the government had told the DHB that requesting passports was not the expectation.

Essential workplace rules

Verrall said the review of restrictions at essential work sites would take what officials are learning at site inspections where they are concerned about cases.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said yesterday officials will be looking at whether workplaces operating in level 4 are able to do so safely and effectively with the current restrictions.

"One of the things that does come through is making sure that common areas where staff take breaks are also safe," Verrall said.

Epidemiologists have called for increased mask use, a look at whether the numbers of workers considered essential can be restricted, and better ventilation at work sites.

Verrall said there was a limit on how much a pool of essential workers could be reduced.

"Obviously people do need to eat and they do need to have access to their medicines, so there is a limit on how much you can reduced movement."

She said running a workplace in bubbles of staff would be a safer arrangement than all employees mixing with each other.

Epidemiologist Michael Baker said work environments should be better ventilated and masks worn in work sites at all times.

He said the alert level system needed to be revised to keep up with what is known about transmission through the air, and some form of mask use should apply at every level.

"We've got to redesign it on the basis of controlling aerosols and transmission indoors," he told Morning Report.

Microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles has also called for better ventilation at work sites, and said N95 masks should be used in businesses under both alert level 3 and 4.

Dr Wiles said a lot of businesses were set up to deal with the risk of transmission through droplets, rather than through the air.

"If you're in an indoor environment and you have bad ventilation, it's a closed environment with lots of people in it, or even if there's not a lot of people but it's closed, it doesn't matter about plastic screens or being two metres apart. The virus is airborne and it will transmit," she said.

In some cases screens may even need to be removed to help with ventilation, she said.

Vaccination rate

Verrall said the government would try to keep vaccinations at the current increased rate but one option would be to return to the original demand plan.

Verrall said at current supply arrangements a rate of 50,000 to 60,000 vaccinations per day would be sustainable.

On one day last week, close to 90,000 doses were administered.

Uptake had increased from the start of level 4, possibly because capacity was freed up in the health system, especially in primary care, she said.

"We want to try and allow that overperformance of our model to continue so we're working on ways we can do that."

Verrall said there were enough ICU beds and staff to manage an outbreak by reallocating the use of facilities in hospitals.

New Zealand does not have the level of intensive care beds that other countries do, she said.

Staff to support intensive care take several years to train, so it is not a problem that can be fixed in 18 months, but the government had brought in extra ventilators and trained additional staff.