A prominent Kiwi businessman funding his own MIQ-free international travel trial says he feels safer in COVID-riddled California than he did in New Zealand.
Sir Ian Taylor is on a whirlwind trip to the US to meet with broadcasters and sporting officials. His company, Animation Research, does computer graphics for yachting, cricket, motorsport and golf, among other sports.
Not a big fan of the managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) lottery and not wanting to take a spot in the Government's official self-isolation trial, Sir Ian asked for - and was granted - permission to do his own.
At 71, he's taking no chances - not just masking up, but using technologies officials here have so far shown little interest in, to show it can be done safely. Most notably he's using a device called Spitfire6830, developed in Dunedin with US financial backing, to show accurate PCR-based tests can be done in minutes, rather than days.
He's now been in California for a few days, and says it's been a "real eye-opener".
"I came in with a bit of trepidation but I actually feel safer here in LA and San Francisco yesterday than I feel in New Zealand."
Since the start of the pandemic, California has recorded more than 4.8 million confirmed cases and 72,500 deaths - adjusted for population, that would be the equivalent of 9000 dead New Zealanders. Of those deaths, nearly 27,000 have been recorded in Los Angeles - which has about twice the population of New Zealand, which has recorded just 7138 cases in the entire pandemic, 2335 of which are active.
Case numbers in California are also on the rise, though deaths so far have been kept in check thanks to vaccination and - as Sir Ian has noted - by taking the threat seriously.
"One of the things that really stands out for me is they've kind of taken in the idea that COVID is here and you have to live with it," said Sir Ian.
"I haven't been able to get into a single building without wearing a mask; when I went to Fox I was tested at the gate, or I had to show tests; I've got a test with one of the major graphics companies in LA tomorrow - today I've got to go out and take a PCR test, come back here to the hotel, make sure I'm clear before I go in…
"Testing is actually a higher priority for them than vaccination. The vaccination rate in LA is around 62 percent, but everywhere you go, everyone's wearing masks, and everyone's being tested."
In New Zealand, there's only one widely available test - PCR, or as Sir Ian calls it, "that terrible up-your-nose thing". While incredibly accurate compared to most other forms of testing, it can be very slow - some reporting waits of up to four or five days to get their results. Sir Ian had one three days before leaving New Zealand but the results didn't arrive until he was literally about to board his flight.
"Anywhere in that three days I could have caught it as well."
As part of his experiment, he used the Spitfire6830 machine to do a test just before boarding - and got a negative result in just 27 minutes.
While much has been made of rapid antigen testing, while convenient it simply isn't as accurate as PCR testing, certainly not for a country that spent 18 months gunning for elimination. Part of the reason PCR tests can take so long to produce a result is because they have to be lab-tested, which requires transportation and staff. The Spitfire6830 does it all in a self-contained box.
Sir Ian says his latest test was taken earlier that day, showing he still probably doesn't have COVID.
Across the state of 40 million people, 69 percent have had at least one dose and 62.5 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the Los Angeles Times. New Zealand is ahead, with 75 percent partially vaccinated (89 percent of those currently eligible) and 65 percent fully vaccinated (77 percent eligible).
"You stick that with vaccination, mask-wearing and hand-cleaning, and you know, you can get on with life," he told The AM Show from his hotel room.
"It is incredible. Every meeting I've had, they've taken COVID more seriously than we have. But I get the sense as I look back at New Zealand that we seem to be shrouded in fear. There's none of that here. It's just we're careful, we take self-responsibility and you get on with it."