12 Aug 2021

PM Jacinda Ardern details new Covid-19 protection measures

8:42 am on 12 August 2021

The prime minister says new Covid-19 measures - to move away from needing lockdowns - may include mandated use of QR codes via the tracer app and mask use.

A person using the Covid Tracer app

Record keeping via the Covid-19 tracer app, and mask wearing, may be mandated for. File photo Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Ahead of the government response this morning to a report from its Covid-19 advisory group on re-opening Aotearoa's borders, Jacinda Ardern told Morning Report about some of the steps the government was considering implementing.

"We have indicated that generally we've been looking at whether or not we needed to mandate - in particular circumstances - record keeping [QR code use] and mask use. You can expect us to say more on that very shortly."

That would be for alert levels 2 and 3, Ardern said.

"You'll see in the advice we have received from Professor Sir David Skegg that he has recommended we do that work. That's to give us greater tools in the future when we have greater levels of vaccination, to move away from having to use lockdowns as a form of control."

"We just want to make sure they work successfully and that we bring in other tools so that we don't have to use lockdowns, those stay at home orders."

Ardern said the government had asked experts if there was a "magic number" - a level of vaccination rates at which borders could open.

"We would expect the need to move in a short and sharp way to put restrictions in place, and I think all of us have watched what happened in Australia and you can see there that the usual restrictions aren't as effective and that any delay can lend itself to a situation where you're in longer restrictions. We want to prevent that.

"They [the experts] back and said look, you need to get as many [vaccinated] as possible. They were concerned that if you put a number on it, it gives an excuse for people not to be vaccinated.

"The other concern they had is that it doesn't tell you enough information, even if you have 80 or even 90 percent of the population vaccinated, if you have large pockets, so say you have a region or even an age profile where you don't have high rates of vaccination, they become pockets of outbreak and that then becomes a problem.

Asked if the government had a moral obligation to keep borders closed for longer to protect those who had chosen not to get vaccinated, Ardern said: "Some politicians, for instance, have taken this view that once everyone got the opportunity to be vaccinated, if they don't, you just open up the borders and you just allow them to suffer the consequences.

"I don't view things in that way because actually everyone suffers the consequences of a badly managed reopening. Everyone... So I don't think it's a matter of just saying, you know, that someone who chooses not to be vaccinated needs to face the consequences.

"When it comes to children, yes, we've sought advice [on vaccination] down to age 12. Nothing beyond that at this stage, and we go through a process of Medsafe, and our individual experts considering that in New Zealand circumstances.

"At the moment though, all of the advice is based on just our current eligible population."

Other measures being considered

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said the government would be prepared to consider extending support payments in the event of shorter Covid-19 lockdown.

The Resurgence Support Payment is available at present to businesses and organisations forced to lock down for seven days or more.

Robertson said at alert level 4 wage subsidies would begin to apply.

But the government may a look at the seven-day rule on the resurgence support payment if a lockdown is implemented.

"We have the flexibility to look at each situation as it arises," he told First Up. "We would certainly take a look at that.

"But we would be in wage subsidy territory in level 4, because it's only those businesses that are essential that are open in level 4."

Robertson said the benefits of a short lockdown in immediately breaking the chain of transmission were clear.

"They wouldn't necessarily be nationwide, they might be quite localised," he said.

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