12 Aug 2021

Covid-19: Rob Fyfe optimistic about govt border news, but vaccination rates must rise

From Checkpoint, 5:12 pm on 12 August 2021

Government Covid-19 business adviser Rob Fyfe told Checkpoint he is more relaxed border restrictions now all ride on New Zealand achieving high vaccination rates.

"I'd rate our intent and our kind of strategy at an eight probably out of ten. I think our execution has probably been a five or six out of ten and I think we need to nail this next phase." 

Rob Fyfe predicted an earlier opening of the borders, so for him today's timeline was a bit disappointing.

He said, however, that given what has happened with the Delta variant since he made his prediction, he believes the government has got it right. 

Fyfe said he was heartened by three aspects of the government's announcement. 

"The government and the prime minister clearly expressed a desire and intent to open the borders once everyone in New Zealand has been offered the chance to be vaccinated and I found that really encouraging. We haven't had that level of clarity previously."

The government also made it clear that the relaxation would begin by the first quarter of 2022, despite the risk of either Delta or a new variant being in the mix.

Fyfe was also pleased they had responded to the frustration people were having around booking spots in managed isolation as well as making trips out of the country and then being able to return. Also it was another significant development that fully vaccinated people wouldn't have to go into MIQ for two weeks.    

"I think that they have listened to that noise and this plan to trial isolation at home is a plus.

"I think all of those things are very positive and I understand why they're not putting specific dates and targets, because this virus keeps evolving in ways that we can't predict.

"And I think most of the people I've spoken to since this morning are accepting of that reality." 
Previously a fan of New South Wales' contact tracing system, Fyfe said the problems the state was having showed how difficult it was to get the Delta variant under control. 

New Zealand would have similar problems and it was better to follow the government's cautious approach rather than risk having to go into a level 4 lockdown, he said. 

Fyfe said he intends going to a board meeting in Montreal in November and would like to be a part of the trial for business people who can self-isolate that will kick off from October. 

Otherwise, he would need to stay overseas until he could get a room in MIQ. 

He agreed that the uncertainty facing not only business people but others in the community during this pandemic was exhausting. However, he remains optimistic but is also mindful of the wellbeing of his staff. 

"I'm very conscious of the people around me and the people I work with of ensuring that we do everything we can to support their energy levels in mental health and make sure the stresses are not becoming a problem.

"I'm energised actually ... I start to see some light at the end of the tunnel. I can see now the direction of travel and the pathway, but that's no walk in the park, that's for sure."

He said he had some sympathy for politicians forced to make decisions in a constantly changing environment and he was confident they had backed the right horse in opting for the Pfizer vaccine.