13 Sep 2021

ACT leader David Seymour calls elimination strategy into question

5:47 pm on 13 September 2021

With community cases rising again today, ACT leader David Seymour says the government must consider a suppression strategy that finds a middle ground between health and financial stability.

Act leader David Seymour

Act leader David Seymour Photo: RNZ / Rob Dixon

Cabinet decided this afternoon to keep Auckland in level 4 for at least one more week, and the rest of New Zealand to remain in level 2.

New community cases spiked over the weekend from 11 on Friday to 23 on Saturday and 20 yesterday.

With confirmation of 33 new cases today, ACT leader David Seymour said the government needed to consider what kind of strategy would be financially sustainable for businesses, and how long the current strategy could be continued before high vaccination rates meant lockdowns were no longer needed.

"There may not be easy answers but clearly we've had a strategy that has worked somewhat, and has run out of runway. We now need to consider what a new strategy would look like," he said.

"There has to be an interim strategy while we wait for vaccination levels to be high enough that allows businesses to keep operating sustainably.

"If we can't get this outbreak under control with four weeks of level four are we certain it'll be under control after five? And if we can't get it under control after five weeks are we gonna go to six? People will go broke in the meantime."

He said he hoped he was wrong and level 4 would work.

"But every piece of evidence is that it's not working and if that's the case then we need to start looking at other options.

"I can tell you when the Takapuna Business Association says we're 96 percent down that's when you get huge trouble, it's causing mental health trouble, it's causing financial trouble.

He said switching to a strategy of suppression in Auckland, with a hard border to prevent the virus spreading to other regions, could be an alternative.

"It may be worth saving the rest of the country while keeping Auckland at a level of restriction that allows businesses in Auckland to do business while we wait for vaccination rates to be high enough. That is still at least two months away in the best case scenario, and we can't go with Auckland at level 4 or even conventional level 3 through that.

"If we have to go to level 4 for another week and another week then what we're doing is the worst of all worlds. We're not eliminating Covid-19 from Auckland and we're not allowing the bounceback that businesses need to recover either."

He said in the meantime the government needed to be offering more resurgence and wage subsidy payments to businesses to keep them running.

"It is simply not good enough that the government has spent over $50 billion on Covid recovery but less than a third of that has actually been on direct support for businesses affected by the restrictions the government itself put in place."

He also called for more testing and new testing technologies.

"Five thousand tests in Auckland yesterday, not good enough, we need new technology. We need to be rolling out saliva testing en masse because at the moment we're finding these unexpected cases showing up that go to Middlemore for no other reason.

"Statistically it's more likely that they're the tip of an iceberg and we're not testing enough to know. Uncertainty due to a lack of testing is fatal to businesses that must continue with restrictions because the prime minister always wants to play safe."

"The goal will be to keep it suppressed to the point where it doesn't overwhelm the hospital system and that's going to require massive changes in testing and tracing. The government should immediately remove the ban on self rapid testing. They should be mailing them out by the thousand to any suburb where they have cases so that you can find the cases rapidly.

"At the moment the government doesn't even have these options on the table. It is lockdown and go broke, or open up completely. Neither of those is sustainable or palatable.

"The problem is when there's uncertainty the prime minister errs on the side of caution about public health but carelessness about every other aspect of New Zealanders' welfare. That's why we need more testing and more certainty."

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