Opening Up: National’s plan to tackle COVID-19, end lockdowns and reopen to the world

New Zealand led the world during 2020 in eliminating COVID-19 through a bold and aggressive strategy. Mistakes were made along the way, but overall the strategy worked. By the start of 2021, New Zealanders enjoyed freedoms that many other people didn’t have. The future looked bright, with COVID-19 vaccines already rolling out around the world and set to roll out in New Zealand.

Unfortunately, the Government has taken its eye off the ball during 2021. Instead of building on the gains of last year, by taking advantage of our isolation and aggressively vaccinating as many New Zealanders as possible as quickly as possible, investing in world-class contact tracing and testing, and building capacity in the health system, the Government has been complacent. The COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund was misspent on art therapy, cameras on fishing boats, and Three Waters reform, rather than on investments that would have made a difference in our response.

The ongoing Delta outbreak that started in August has been a rude awakening for both the Government and many New Zealanders, with the Level 4 lockdown in Auckland lasting longer than the original lockdown in March 2020. The Delta outbreak has proven hard to contain, exacerbated by a low level of vaccination coverage at the start of the outbreak and a lack of planning and preparation in dealing with it.

New Zealand is at a tipping point. Delta is here in New Zealand, it may not be possible to eliminate it, and it would almost inevitably arrive into the community again anyway. Newer variants pose fresh risks. But New Zealand cannot remain isolated forever, with hundreds of thousands of Kiwis stuck offshore, functionally unable to return to New Zealand due to highly restrictive border settings and lack of space in Managed Isolation Facilities. Likewise, New Zealand will continue to need migration to bolster our economic recovery and to fill skill shortages, especially in our health system.

In the National Party, we believe fervently that our future lies as a small and nimble nation connected to the rest of the world. Our prosperity in the 21st century will depend on those global connections – trade, tourism, foreign investment, international education and more. Many other developed countries are now reopening and we cannot sit in splendid isolation forever. We must take the steps necessary to turn our defensive success against COVID into an ongoing advantage. The sooner we can safely reconnect to the rest of the world, the better.

The below outlines a high-level summary of National’s plan for the next twelve months in responding to COVID-19.

→ You can read our full and comprehensive plan here or continue reading the summary below.

Summary of Policy Initiatives

Pillar One – Invest

The first pillar of our plan is called INVEST. It is an outline of ten steps that we need to take urgently to respond to COVID-19 and to set ourselves up to begin to reconnect to the world. These are important measures that New Zealand needs to take, whatever the strategy is for the future. These steps will help us evolve our response away from lockdowns and help us reconnect to the world. They give us options and choices about the future.

→ You can read more on these steps on Pages 9-33 of our full plan here.

Step 1: Supercharge the vaccine rollout (pg. 9-16)

Improved Targeting

  • Priority vaccinate South Auckland
  • Quickly complete vaccinating the vulnerable
  • Vaccinate the vectors: young people
  • Resource Māori to get vaccination rates higher

Improved mechanisms

  • Make better use of GPs and pharmacists
  • Go door to door focusing on high-risk communities
  • Vaccinate in MIQ
  • Use incentives

Improving coverage

  • Vaccinate 12+ year olds in schools before the end of the year
  • Be ready to go immediately with 5-11-year-olds
  • Mandate COVID-19 healthcare worker vaccination

Step 2: Order vaccine boosters
(pg. 17)

Step 3: Upgrade our contact tracing capability (pg. 18-19)

Step 4: Roll out saliva testing at the border and in the community (pg. 20-22)

Step 5: Roll out rapid tests for essential workers and in the community (pg. 23-24)

Step 6: Create a dedicated agency, Te Korowai Kōkiri to manage our COVID-19 response (pg. 25-26)

Step 7: Build purpose-built quarantine (pg. 27-28)

Step 8: Launch a digital app for vaccination authentication (pg. 29)

Step 9: Invest in next-generation COVID-19 treatments (pg. 30-31)

Step 10: Prepare our hospitals and expand ICU capacity (pg. 32-33)

Pillar Two – Evolve

The second pillar of our plan is called EVOLVE. It is all about doing what it takes to end our reliance on economically damaging and socially costly lockdowns. We have set a milestone of 70-75% of the population aged 12+ being fully vaccinated as soon as possible. Modelling shows that once we get to that level, and including community response measures like those listed in pillar one, nationwide lockdowns are no longer needed. By itself, reaching this milestone as quickly as possible will have a demonstrably positive impact on New Zealand.

  • Reach a 70-75% vaccination milestone.
  • Pursue elimination without nationwide lockdowns.

→ You can read more on Pillar Two on Pages 34-35 of our full plan here.

Pillar Three – Open

The third pillar of the plan is called OPEN. It is our pathway to reconnect New Zealand to the world. We have set a milestone of at least 85-90% of the 12+ population being fully vaccinated for this to happen, although we want to get as high a vaccination rate as possible. Vaccination coverage in the community of at least 85% plus community response measures (pillar one) means that COVID can be dealt with adequately and efficiently by our public health system.

  • Reach an 85-90% vaccination milestone, with supplementary DHB and age-based milestones.
  • Change to vigorous suppression strategy.
  • Implement a traffic light travel system for travel to New Zealand, allowing New Zealand to re-open to the world.

→ You can read more on Pillar Three on Pages 36-42 of our full plan here.

Appendix One: Upgrading our health system in the long term

Moving from elimination to vigorous suppression will involve COVID-19 entering New Zealand and our health system will need to respond. National’s plan in step 10 of pillar one will help the system cope with COVID.

This section looks at the scale of resource required, looking at three key elements of hospital based resourcing that have been rate limiting steps in each outbreak of COVID-19 to date: ICU beds, hospital beds, and ICU/general ward staff and proposes a formula for assessing future need in an endemic rather than a surge capacity model.

→ You can read more on this section on Pages 43-46 of our full plan here.

Appendix Two: Immigration - seizing our opportunities

The success of New Zealand’s long-term economic and health response to COVID-19 will hinge on our immigration settings. The steps that we take to attract and retain talent will be decisive to our recovery.

The world as we know it has changed, and right now New Zealand is being left in the dust. Our post-pandemic future demands smart planning and a willingness to embrace bold new policy ideas. Instead, the Government has walked off the job and abandoned its post. The Immigration Minister has been almost invisible, unable to reach key decisions which has led to a broken department.

National’s immigration blueprint would seize every opportunity we have available, providing fresh policy thinking and exhibiting a mature vision for a diverse, connected and forward-looking New Zealand.

National’s proposals:

  • Prioritise visas for critical healthcare workers
  • Implement our traffic light model for travel (pillar three)
  • Fix our broken immigration system
  • Offer conditional residence on arrival for highly-sought skilled workers

→ You can read more on this section on Pages 47-51 of our full plan here.

To be clear, this is a strategy based on vigorous suppression of COVID-19. It means dealing with COVID-19 in the community as and when it arises, and gearing up the health system to cope with people who fall sick.

New Zealand has a choice. We can continue on the path of elimination forever, using expensive and socially devastating lockdowns with incredibly tight border settings that lock out thousands of New Zealanders from returning to their homeland. Or we can recognise that Delta has changed the game, New Zealand cannot remain a hermit kingdom forever, and that our response must evolve accordingly. With proper deployment of public health tools in our community and at the border, we can avoid nationwide lockdowns and reopen to the world, while still responding effectively to COVID-19.

New Zealanders have done the hard yards. They have willingly followed harsh lockdown measures and other COVID-19 restrictions and, increasingly, they have been vaccinated for the common good. It’s time for them to be offered a vision and a plan about how their hard work will pay off. This is that plan.

Once we reopen to the world, the future is in the hands of New Zealanders. National will have more to say in the coming months about the opportunities being a world leader in COVID management brings. But to get there, we need National’s plan.

You can watch coverage of the Plan launch here:


You can find Press Statements from National's Spokespeople here:

→ Judith Collins - National launches plan to open up New Zealand

→ Chris Bishop - National's plan allows for vaccinated travel

→ Chris Bishop - Ten steps for vigorous suppression of COVID-19

→ Shane Reti & Simon Watts - National planning for a strong health system

→ Erica Stanford- National seizing immigration opportunities