Government has choices and needs to make them now

In the absence of a coherent strategy or plan from the Government to deal with the ongoing outbreak in Auckland other than abject surrender, National’s Chris Bishop says there are a number of actions the Government can take immediately to enhance the Covid response.

“The Prime Minister has belatedly realised the significance of vaccination. It would have been good if she had come to this realisation in the first six months of the year when New Zealand made an explicit policy decision to have the developed world’s slowest vaccine rollout.

“First, Aucklanders deserve to know at what level of vaccination restrictions can be loosened. Today’s roadmap was vague, confusing and will cause even more stress for Aucklanders.

“The loosening of restrictions should be explicitly tied to particular vaccination rates. This will help motivate people to go out and get vaccinated.

“Ideally the Government would open up more activities to vaccinated people more quickly. This would act as a spur for people to go and get vaccinated and reward people who have done the right thing. But the Government’s incompetence in rolling out the vaccine authentication means this isn’t an option for now. The Government must move immediately to give New Zealanders a digital vaccine authentication tool so people who have been vaccinated can prove it, and enjoy the benefits of having done so.

“Second, we must vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate. National has put forward 11 useful ideas to supercharge vaccination in our Opening Up plan and we urge the Government to act on them.

“Some sensible ideas that could be actioned straight away include allowing patient data held by DHBs and Primary Health Organisations to be automatically accessed by Whānau Ora providers like the Waipareira Trust so they can be contacted by those providers about getting the vaccine, mandating that all currently vaccinating GPs and pharmacists can vaccinate for COVID-19, and ramping up pop-up clinics, walk-in centres, 24-hour drop-in clinics for essential workers and vaccination buses.

“Third, it is clear that there is Covid in the community but surveillance testing via nasal PCR testing is just not picking up cases quickly enough. The Government should immediately contract private sector saliva testing companies like Rako Science to conduct surveillance testing. This would significantly increase testing capacity and make a real difference.

“Fourth, the Government should drop its ill-considered ban on rapid antigen testing and roll it out more widely to essential workers, particularly those crossing the Auckland boundary. The case of the Covid-positive truck driver is a perfect example of why rapid antigen testing is needed. He was infectious from September 28 but had his last test on September 24. Daily rapid testing would likely have picked it up sooner.

“Finally, given the cases now appearing at hospitals, there needs to be regular surveillance testing at our public hospitals. Private hospitals have been regularly testing staff for some time now but there is no coordinated, comprehensive plan in our public hospitals. This should be an urgent priority.

“The Government’s rushed and incoherent plan needs bolstering and we urge the Government to pick up National’s ideas to make suppression work.

You can read Opening Up: National’s plan to tackle COVID-19, end lockdowns and reopen to the world here.