12 Aug 2021

Reconnecting New Zealand to the world: The speeches and statements

4:57 pm on 12 August 2021

The government this morning held a forum, annoucning it was changing its vaccine rollout plan and setting out how the border could slowly reopen.

Watch the speeches and statements from experts and politicians below.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

This was the main event from today's forum, laying out the government's plan for a four-stage approach to managing the border.

It includes a risk assessment of travellers based on their location and vaccination status, a faster vaccine rollout, and continuing with the elimination strategy.

Read more:

Sir David Skegg

Sir David was the lead author behind the report that informed the government's response.

Skegg said the world has changed "and some things will never be the same", and the fight against Covid-19 has shaped up to be a drawn-out war between humans and a tiny microbe.

"Despite remarkable scientific progress in developing highly effective and safe vaccines, the virus is still winning the war," he said. "One our problems is that our allies have let us down. Many countries that could have eliminated Covid-19 either never tried, or threw in the towel."

He also pointed out the global situation would be very different no matter what the virus throws at humanity, with a better understanding of the effectiveness of the vaccines, better tests, and the possibility of effective anti-viral drugs.

Dr Maia Brewerton

Dr Maia Brewerton says the Māori response to Covid-19 was rapid and centred around whānau and community. In te ao Māori, you put family and community first, she says.

As we move through the vaccine rollout, we have to look at who is vulnerable - and that's what Māori do, she says.

"We need to focus on those who aren't accessing the vaccine... to reach those people."

That approach should involve talking to those communities to find out what the barriers are.

Reaching those groups will need the support of all New Zealanders.

Dr Api Talemaitoga

Dr Api Talemaitoga talked about how barriers to the vaccine for Pacific people in Aotearoa can be broken down through education about the vaccine, and the venues used.

He was concerned about the tendency to blame "vaccine hesitancy", saying the vaccine is a new, changing thing.

He recommends using trusted community care providers that people know to deliver the vaccine.

Venues are important in making the setting less intimidating and more welcoming.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield

Dr Bloomfield answered questions ahead of the Prime Minister's announcement. He said the government is getting on with the job of tackling Covid-19 and doing a much better job than most other countries.

"Watch this space," he says, and "we are watching ... evidence like a hawk."

He also talked about comparisons with efforts to control measles and HIV.

Prof Michael Baker

Epidemiologist Michael Baker was not on the group of experts which wrote the report, but congratulated them on the advice provided.

"I'm thinking about what will it be like being here ... in a year's time in teh every changing Covid environment and ... on a bad day - that is if, despite our best efforts at stopping the virus at the border, we have an outbreak - what would that look like?"

He said there would be more certainty in future about the long-term effects of Covid-19 and its variants, how effective the vaccines were at preventing those, and how safe the vaccines were for children.

He believed the alert level system would be revised to be more nuanced, mask use would be greater, and indoor air quality would be monitored much more closely.

"With all of these measures, hopefully the outbreak would be eliminated rapidly, and also the consequences would be far less severe than with an outbreak now."

Dr Ayesha Verrall

Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said the advice from the group had been incredibly valuable, and that the government's reliance on scientific experts and public health advice had proven its worth time and again.

"In the last week more than 270,000 vaccinations have been delivered and our roll out plan is on track," she said.

She said it was a difficult truth that the government could not provide absolute certainty, but like with any disease trust would crucial to the ongoing prevention and treatment.

"This virus has mutated and evolved over the last year. As a government we can't use yesterday's evidence to predict where we will be in six months time, but we can set out a framework for how we will respond to changing circumstances - and how we will continue to use the best available evidence to inform our approach."

Rob Fyfe

Businessman Rob Fyfe said that if the vaccine rollout only reached, for example, 40 percent it would mean a return to lockdown.

However, current MIQ constraints were causing a lot of concern for business at the moment.

"There's no easy way to just suddenly grow the capacity of the system."

He was hopeful about new ways to expand the system.

"People are desperate, they'll do whatever it takes. If I had to wear an ankle bracelet ... that would be fine."

We need to be flexible in looking for alternatives, he says.

Fronting to media

After all the speeches, Ardern, Sir David, Fyfe and Sir Brian Roche answered questions put to them by reporters.

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