Our first priority is our response to COVID-19.
New Zealanders made huge sacrifices last year. Hundreds of thousands of people were dependent upon the wage subsidy as the economy was forced to shut down. Sixty-five thousand people lost their jobs, and the number is growing.
Our tourism sector was decimated. Businesses took on debt to make ends meet, some to unsustainable levels. Many closed, and far too many more are still likely too.
During this time, the Government borrowed and spent almost $40 billion. To put this into context, that is more than they spend on health and education each year. The Government has said that New Zealand’s debt will grow to almost $200 billion over the next three years.
And, when Auckland was forced to go into a second lockdown because Covid-19 got through the border in August, the Chamber of Commerce estimated the economic cost was $450 million per week. That’s the cost of building a regional hospital in a city the size of Hastings.
Almost every other country that we compare ourselves to is rolling out vaccinations as quickly as they can. Our closest neighbour, Australia, has prioritized this with vaccinations starting within the next few weeks.
This means their citizens will be safer. They’ll have the certainty to get back to business. They’ll see international students and visitors return, and life for Kiwis who live in Australia will start to get back to normal.
New Zealanders can’t afford another lockdown. But even more than this, failing to secure vaccinations for our frontline workers, border staff and those who work in and around managed isolation and quarantine shows a massive disregard for the sacrifice New Zealanders made last year. It is not good enough.
We need to match Australia’s schedule. We should be like Singapore, rolling out the vaccine to frontline workers and those vulnerable New Zealanders who need it urgently.
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