29 Sep 2021

Covid-19: National's plan calls for vaccination targets to end lockdowns, open borders

4:10 pm on 29 September 2021

The National Party is calling for New Zealand to first end lockdowns then reopen to the world based on two vaccination targets.

Watch Judith Collins revealing the party's plan here:

The party's plan, which it says has been thoroughly vetted by experts - who would not be named publicly - includes three "pillars".

The first pillar includes 10 actions for boosting New Zealand's response, the second is a 70-75 percent vaccination target for ending lockdowns and the third is an 85-90 percent target for reopening to the world.

Read the full plan here

The strategy aims for "vigorous suppression" of Covid-19, while accepting that elimination of the Delta variant and other strains like it may not be possible.

Announcing the plan this morning, National leader Judith Collins said the government's Covid-19 strategy had been largely successful, but it had taken its eye off the ball this year.

"The government has no real plan beyond a belated admission that vaccination is important. The prime minister says there is no vaccine target while ministers throw around numbers willy-nilly ... the prime minister also says her 'reconnection' ideas are still government policy while her Covid-19 minister says they are being reconsidered."

She said the planned trial of at-home isolation was not a plan, "it's an insult, Kiwis have done the hard yards".

"Delta is here, it may not be possible to eliminate it, and it would almost inevitably arrive into the community again. Whatever happens, we need to reopen to the world and National's plan outlines how we can do that."

She said the government was being invited to just go ahead and use National's entire policy.

"You've got to put in the whole policy, it's not just pick one, pick the other, the government is being invited to take our entire policy, put it together and just do it ... they can't simply keep blaming New Zealanders for us being in lockdown, they have to take responsibility.

"We want New Zealanders to be able to come home and we don't want families to be split."

She said the current MIQ booking system was outrageous, and some people were unable to access some of the health treatments - including for cancer - they needed.

National's Covid-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop said the third pillar in the plan of reopening would reunite families and allow New Zealanders to travel overseas, boost tourism and international education, and "end the depressing and outrageous human lottery that is the MIQ debacle".

"Alongside the public health measures outlined in our plan, a milestone of 85 percent means we can manage Covid-19 coming through the border," he said.

It would involve a traffic-light risk-based border system that would prioritise isolation-free travel for fully vaccinated travellers - a similar model to what the government has proposed - but the border would reopen once New Zealand reached 85 percent vaccination of 12+ age groups.

"The low-risk green pathway is for travel from jurisdictions where there is either no or little cases of Covid-19, and where vaccination rates are above 80 percent ... vaccinated travellers from these jurisdictions would be able to come to New Zealand with a pre-departure test and a rapid and saliva test on arrival at the port of entry," he said.

To achieve this, and the lower target of ending nationwide lockdowns after reaching a 70-75 vaccination, the 10-step first pillar includes several ideas National has repeatedly brought up in criticising the government's approach.

National's 10 steps:

  • 1. Supercharge the vaccine rollout
  • 2. Order vaccine boosters
  • 3. Upgrade our contact tracing capability
  • 4. Roll out saliva testing at the border and in the community
  • 5. Roll out rapid tests for essential workers and in the community
  • 6. Create a dedicated agency, Te Korowai Kōkiri, to manage our Covid-19 response based in Manukau not Wellington
  • 7. Build purpose-built quarantine
  • 8. Launch a digital app for vaccination authentication
  • 9. Invest in next-generation Covid treatments
  • 10. Prepare our hospitals and expand ICU capacity

The first and most detailed step would target vaccinations towards South Auckland, Māori, and vulnerable populations, making better use of GPs, pharmacies, door-knocking in high-risk suburbs, and using vaccination in MIQ.

Young people would also be a priority, with school vaccinations and planning ready to go for vaccinating children aged 5-11, aiming for both to be complete by the end of the year.

It would also seek to commission behavioural scientists and economists to come up with incentives to get more people vaccinated.

Daily saliva testing would become mandatory for border workers and quarantine-facility residents, with a provider contracted to also perform the tests on arrivals from low- and medium-risk countries.

Meanwhile, rapid antigen testing would be provided for international arrivals, and rolled out to all essential workers and hospitals, with greater availability for the general public.

Bishop said they aimed to have rapid testing "ubiquitous in the community by mid next year".

Most of the other steps are fairly self-explanatory, but step 10 calls for preparing hospitals and ICU capacity. It would do this with immigration for the healthcare workforce; assessment and financial support for migrant nurses already in New Zealand; increasing student enrolment in healthcare including more post-graduate roles within hospitals focused on retention.

It would also fast-track new hospital wards and invest in new technologies.

Bishop said after 75 percent vaccination was achieved, lockdowns would be come an absolute last resort, and the plan had to be looked at as a whole.

"If you just look at what's happened over the last nine months, the last six months in particular, there's every reason to suspect that we can get to 85 percent by Christmas, it's just we need National's ideas.

"We need to go door-to-door, we need to use incentives, we need to establish groups like the rangatahi advisory group and actually go and talk to people on the ground who are vaccine hesitant, take a much more grassroots approach."

The modelling by Shaun Hendy of Te Pūnaha Matatini suggested that opening up at 85 percent vaccination of 12+, without other interventions, would lead to 3414 deaths.

Bishop said that modelling had been criticised.

"The Hendy modelling has been challenged by other noted modellers ... no one has yet built a model that specifically models some of the things that we're talking about.

"An 85 percent vaccination rate, that is a very high level and alongside contact tracing, isolation, mass testing, surveillance testing but also community testing through rapid and saliva testing, we can have surety and confidence.

"There will be Covid in the community, it's about how you deal with the Covid in the community, and we're confident with the measures that we're suggesting and proposing we can deal with the Covid in the community."

National's Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti said that instead of investing in ICU, the government had "frittered the Covid-19 Response Fund away and has focused on restructuring the entire health system in the middle of a global pandemic".

"The number of ICU beds has actually fallen since the end of April 2020 through to September 2021," he said.

New Zealand has a proportionally lower number of ICU beds than many countries throughout the OECD. Dr Reti said the current ICU capacity would not be able to cope.

"Our solution has been to lock people down, so you don't get accidents turning up in ICU, and it's also been to slow down elective surgery ... if we accept an endemic level of coronavirus in the community we're going to need new resource ... that will be ICU beds, it will be ICU nurses, it's also, remember, ward beds because you can't move a person out of ICU if there's not a ward bed for them to go to."

National's plan comes a day after the ACT Party released its own plan on reopening the border, urging an end to regional lockdowns, and an overall strategic shift away from public health to wellbeing.

In a statement, ACT leader David Seymour congratulated National on its plan, while also taking some credit.

"Nine of National's 10 steps announced today can also be found in ACT's three Covid-19 response documents and statements released over the past year," he said.

"ACT has been calling to supercharge the rollout, order vaccine boosters, upgrade our contact tracing, rollout out saliva testing, rapid test, a Covid response agency, vaccine authentication, investment in Covid treatments and preparing hospitals for months.

"While we have not called for purpose-built MIQ we have called for Private MIQ. The way this government builds, the pandemic will be over before it gets resource consent.

"It's a clear signal that ACT and National have the ideas and the follow through to present an alternative government."

Following his widely discussed opinion piece at the weekend, former Prime Minister Sir John Key told Morning Report on Monday it was not over-the-top to liken New Zealand to North Korea, as he has, the government needed to state definite dates of opening and incentivise vaccinations.

Speaking at the daily Covid-19 briefing this afternoon, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said he had not read National's plan yet, but it was "clear that the National Party want to throw open the borders, have hundreds of thousands of people coming in".

"One can conclude that the biggest promise they're making at the moment is that they're willing for Kiwis to get Covid for Christmas."

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