9 Aug 2021

Live: Jacinda Ardern speaks in post-Cabinet briefing

5:11 pm on 9 August 2021

Vaccinations will open to people over 50 from Friday, earlier than had been planned.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern accompanied by Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins made the announcement after a Cabinet meeting this afternoon.

Watch here:

Last Friday, people aged over 55 were able to book for vaccinations, a threshold that was five days ahead of the government's initial plans.

Ardern said the past week had been the best week so far for the vaccination roll-out, with 21 percent of the eligible population now fully vaccinated and more than a million bookings in the government's system.

This very rapid take-up of the offer to be vaccinated is fantastic ... our system is now ready to move - ahead of schedule - to the next age band," she said.

There are about 319,000 people in the 50-55 age group.

Those who have not booked and are eligible should call the Covid-19 vaccination healthline on 0800 28 29 26 between 8am and 8pm, seven days a week, she said.

Ahead of the Reconnecting New Zealand forum on Thursday, Ardern said the government was keen to resume international travel, but had to close borders to keep New Zealanders safe.

She said Professor David Skegg, who led the advisory group that is reporting back this week, would speak specifically about the additional risks posed by the Delta strain.

Hipkins this afternoon said the roughly 300,000 people in the 50-plus age group would be able to book a vaccination from Friday, 13 August.

"This is a great all round response and means we're in position to open the 50-plus age band for vaccinations earlier than planned," Hipkins said.

"Being able to open another age band so quickly is a real confidence booster and shows how well New Zealand is embracing the vaccine."

Rio De La Plata container ship

Asked about the risks posed by the Rio De La Plata container ship off Tauranga, Ardern said the government had always prioritised frontline workers, including port workers, for vaccination.

"They have had vaccines available for some time," she said.

"What we have encountered though are a range of barriers to those individuals having a vaccination and that includes, unfortunately, misinformation, hesitancy and of course from the ports themselves a concern that mandating would destroy, potentially, supply lines."

She said a situation where border workers were not vaccinated was not tolerable however, which was why the government had mandated that workers at the border must have their first dose by 26 August.

"That is in spite of the concerns that are being raised that these are privately employed individuals ... we still nonetheless believe it to be so important to New Zealand's health and wellbeing we are mandating it, and it may mean job loss.

"There's always been urgency, right from the beginning we said 'this is our most important group'."

Hipkins said there were two cut-off dates, depending on the kind of border worker - with one group requiring at least a first dose by 26 August, and the other requiring it by the end of September.

Chris Hipkins

Minister for Covid-19 Response, Chris Hipkins Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The minister said there had been a lot of work carried out to encourage voluntary vaccination.

"The feedback we've had - from some of our smaller ports in particular ... it could potentially mean they have to stop both receiving and sending out cargo," he said.

Even Tauranga, one of New Zealand's biggest ports and where the ship in question has been docked, had concerns about this, he added.

Hipkins said officials would need to take a "good clear look" at the situation around the ship, including whether New Zealanders should have been allowed on to the ship - even while wearing PPE - when there were concerns about Covid-19 being on board.

It was his understanding that there was a four-day period where the ship was berthed in Tauranga, between Wednesday and Saturday last week.

"That is exactly one of the things we will be looking closely at is exactly who knew what and when, and whether earlier action should have been taken."

Ardern said no one who was infected was allowed off the boat.

There were a large number of commercial ships coming in that often had a rapid turnaround of offloading goods, but there were very strict requirements for crew movements for those ships because they were treated as though they have the virus, she added. But she wanted port workers to be vaccinated too, and to not simply rely on infection controls.

Hipkins said part of the government's investigation would be to determine whether there was any breach of the risk mitigation measures like PPE.

Ardern said all the port workers were in isolation "because we need to go through a process of assessing that risk so everyone's getting tested".

"There may be some who may require a second test and longer forms of isolation depending on the level of contact they had over the course of those four days.

"We want those negative results to come back to really give us an assessment of what we're dealing with, I think anything beyond that is speculative."

She said the advice so far had been that public health measures were followed.

Misinformation having impact

The Prime Minister confirmed there may be privately-employed port workers in future who may no longer be able to work in their roles if they were refusing vaccination.

Hipkins said port workers by far fell into one of the groups with the lowest rates of vaccination of any frontline border workers.

"It has been an area of concern for me for some time so it has been something I've been having conversations about including with employers, with unions, with other representatives and it does appear clear there is a greater degree of misinformation here, a greater degree of conspiracy theory, and that has been something we have been working to address."

Ardern said misinformation was still significantly impacting on efforts to tackle the Covid-19 threat.

"I can't emphasise enough how much it puts people's health and wellbeing at risk. It's not just about our economy, yes that's incredibly important, but it's about saving people's lives and to see the lack of responsibility from individuals who post information, let alone the sometimes lack of ownership from those platforms around helping better manage it, is incredibly frustrating.

"We are still up against a battle where people are just being told absolute rubbish, and it's incredibly hard."