22 Sep 2020

Slow alert level changes show strategy unsustainable - National, ACT

6:48 am on 22 September 2020

National and ACT have welcomed yesterday's alert level changes, but say border management strategy under Labour is not sustainable.

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National Party Covid-19 Border Response spokesperson Gerry Brownlee. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Most of New Zealand - excluding Auckland - woke to a return to alert level 1 restrictions today after Labour leader Jacinda Ardern announced the move yesterday, but Auckland will have to wait for 11.59pm Wednesday night for its own move - down to level 2.

Ardern said Auckland would then remain at level 2 for at least another two weeks, with Cabinet to meet again on 5 October to discuss whether the supercity can return to level 1.

"What we are trying to signal with some certainty is, if we continue on this path, it's likely in two weeks' time we will have that added confidence that that time and extra cycle of transmission will give us, and then we may be in a position to lift once more," Ardern said.

"Essentially Auckland needs more time. Whilst we have reasonable confidence that we are on the right track there is still a need in Auckland for that cautious approach, this was the center of the outbreak and that is why that caution is required here.

"However, our view is that, when it comes to the rest of the country, given that we have not seen that regional spread we have enough confidence to lift those restrictions outside of Auckland."

  • Key info on alert level decision
  • Watch the announcement
  • Aucklanders react
  • Aucklanders yesterday appeared pleased with the decision to move down and were looking forward to even further relaxation of the rules.

    However, National Party Covid-19 Border Response spokesperson Gerry Brownlee, who is set to announce the party's own border strategy today says the later move down alert levels for Auckland is too conservative.

    "You can't expect to shut a big city like Auckland down for as long as it has been, and not expect the dreadful consequences - you know, 400 jobs a day going out of the system - and you can't keep doing that forever."

    He says the move to alert level 1 for the rest of the country is "absolutely essential" but a departure from previous policy announced by Ardern, "who has said consistently that if Aucklanders were moving around the rest of the country needed to be equally alert".

    New Zealand needs better systems to manage the potential spread of Covid-19 outbreaks, he says.

    "I think in the end we are likely to have sporadic outbursts and we need to be confident that we've got the systems in place to minimise that - so good, high border standards which I don't think we have at the moment and then of course just obliging the normal personal hygiene matters."

    ACT leader David Seymour - who yesterday announced the party's tourism policy, which includes allowing rich tourists to pay to use privately run isolation facilities - says the delays show the government strategy cannot last.

    "We do not have a sustainable strategy if one outbreak requires six weeks of nationwide restrictions - and counting, in the case of Auckland," he says.

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    ACT leader David Seymour. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

    "We need to get better at managing this epidemic, in particular we need to get better at transparent decision making and balancing all of the costs including those non-Covid costs that are imposed by the restrictions."

    He says it is very difficult to balance the risks, but the government should have invested in a "smarter public health response" along the lines of Taiwan. Taiwan was well prepared for the pandemic, with a plan in place for years including contact tracing, quarantines and wide availability of masks, and indeed New Zealand's response has been partially modelled off it.

    "It was forgivable to be underprepared the first time, but less and less forgivable with each passing day," Seymour says.

    Greens co-leader James Shaw supported the alert level decisions, saying the government had followed the scientific advice.

    "There's a balance of risk, and I think that this is a good decision given that balance of risks."

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    Green Party co-leader James Shaw. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

    "We know that we still have people who have Covid ... we've obviously always got that possibility when we're dealing with the volumes of people at the border that we're dealing with that something could slip through somehow."

    He says New Zealand's systems for managing the virus have come a long way.

    "Those systems have been evolving and improving every day and every week and every month since the outbreak first happened.

    "The fact that we're able to have much of the country operating at alert level 1 or just above ... whilst we're grappling with an outbreak, whereas back in February we just didn't have the systems in place to be able to manage it.

    "Now we have very good systems up and running for contact tracing, for large-scale testing, for strong controls at the border and so on."

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