Opening New Zealand still hinges on vaccine rollout

Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins says the announcements from the Government around reconnecting New Zealand to the world are a step in the right direction, but speeding up and effectively rolling out the Covid-19 vaccination programme is the most important thing to do right now.

“As we’ve been saying all year, the overriding message has to be ‘vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate’. It is imperative we vaccinate as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, so we can start the next steps in reconnecting with the world.

“It is good news that all eligible Kiwis will have the opportunity to receive the vaccine from September 1 and we welcome the move to change the default spacing of the Pfizer doses from three weeks to six weeks. The Government’s rationale for this makes sense, particularly the risk of Delta.

“We should also be looking to quickly roll out the vaccine to children aged 12 and above, as other countries are doing. Vaccinations in schools should occur before the school year ends, the Government should start the planning for this.

“While vaccination numbers are finally rising, we are still the slowest in the OECD and 120th in the world. This is not the ‘front of the queue’ we were promised and is simply not good enough considering the heightened risk from new variants.

“The Government also hasn’t ordered any Pfizer booster shots for next year, despite many other countries ordering hundreds of millions of doses.

“National has put forward a range of constructive suggestions for how to speed up the vaccine rollout and we hope the Government considers them.

“We continue to call for a formal ambitious vaccination target or range of targets. A target would encourage uptake by mobilising the team of five million to come together behind a common goal. It would focus the system on achieving that target and hold the Government to account for reaching it, or not reaching it.

“It’s not good enough for the Prime Minister to settle with just only offering a vaccine to everyone by the end of the year. We need an ambitious target based on sophisticated modelling linked to border outcomes. The Government doesn’t seem to have done this work.

“The Prime Minister also needs to provide numbers around what ‘good regional spread’ and ‘high vaccination rates’ actually mean.”

Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop says today’s announcements around border changes for 2022 and beyond look good in principle, but much more detail is required.

“National alongside public health experts have been calling for a traffic light system for months. More detail is required about what ‘low’, ‘medium’ and ‘high risk’ actually means in practice and we need to know more about the pilot of home-based isolation.

“The Government seems to have belatedly come around to the view that rapid antigen testing and other innovative technologies have a place at our border, as National has been saying for months. But the work only appears to be starting now.

“The speech today was light on ways of strengthening our already-stretched health and contact tracing systems. As New Zealand opens up, it will be critical to deal effectively and swiftly with Covid-19 cases in New Zealand. We need to hear more from the Government about how to improve our community response.

“Finally, it’s obvious from today’s speech that we need to be getting on with purpose-built quarantine facilities.

“MIQ in some form will be with us for years particularly for passengers from high risk countries, and National continues to believe a purpose-built facility would be a worthwhile investment in the national interest.”