26 Nov 2021

'No need to be alarmed' about new South African variant - Grant Robertson

3:53 pm on 26 November 2021

While there are no cases in New Zealand of the Covid-19 variant currently causing concern in South Africa, deputy prime minister Grant Robertson says it is a strong reminder that the global pandemic is far from over.

Robertson and Director of Public Health Caroline McElnay have held today's media briefing.

Watch the update here:

Speaking about the new variant, Robertson said he had confirmed with ESR that no variant of that nature had come into New Zealand.

"But it's a good example of why we need to be cautious. There's no need at this point to be alarmed about it from New Zealand's perspective, but it does point out that the global pandemic is still ongoing and New Zealand's response needs to be careful, methodical and cautious."

He noted that the World Health Organisation was meeting overnight and there was still some debate about transmissibility of this variant.

Dr McElnay said New Zealand was watching the situation closely, and genome sequencing on each case that came in across the border would be picked up.

Robertson said they have not had any advice to consider a travel ban on South Africa, but New Zealand does have a high risk country list and will take advice on it.

Robertson also said the eighth round of wage subsidy opened this morning, including some of the time period for when the country is no longer in the alert level system, but payments will still go out.

By midday today 13 DHBs had hit the 90 percent first dose milestone, he said. New Zealand's overall first dose rate now sits at 92 percent, he said.

Today bookings open for booster shots of Pfizer for those who completed their courses at least six months ago, he said. From today bookings are also available for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Asked about the health system's preparedness for Delta, Robertson said it has been continually developing its ability to cope with Delta.

Robertson said it was obvious we were prepared because we have managed to slow and minimise the spread of Delta and no country has managed to eliminate Delta.

"I maintain the health system has done well in managing an outbreak of Delta, I acknowledge things will not be 100 percent perfect."

Robertson also defended the government's work to increase Māori vaccination rates.

An independent report group led by Sir Brian Roche had warned the government on 23 September that getting the vaccination rate well over 90 per cent needed to be an urgent priority.

It also warned the programme was failing certain populations - most notably Māori - and recommended more funding to address disparities.

Robertson said he accepts there has been ongoing work with Māori and iwi providers to improve the vaccination programme.

"We were also very aware as we saw the way the vaccination programme was rolling out, that we did need to put more resource into supporting the Māori vaccination programme, and we did that."

Robertson said the government did take the report on board.

Mandate for police, defence force

Meanwhile, an extended mandate will include all sworn police officers, authorised officers and recruits and all Defence Force staff who will need to receive their first vaccination by 17 January 2022 and their second vaccination by 1 March 2022.

Robertson said he was not expecting push back from the mandatory vaccination from police.

Asked why it's taken so long to mandate vaccination for police, Robertson said there was a process to work through with the workforce, the end point is if they aren't vaccinated then they won't be able to undertake the duties of frontline police officers.

"We do not want to issue mandates where we don't believe that there is a very pressing need to do so, but we're simply taking it step by step."

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