11 Jul 2022

Rest of the world has moved on from Covid-19, Christoper Luxon says

8:07 pm on 11 July 2022

The rest of the world has moved on from Covid-19, National Party leader Christopher Luxon says, having just arrived back from overseas.

National Party leader Christopher Luxon

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

He says test-to-work should be expanded to increase the number of workers, and the "too complex" traffic light system should be abandoned.

Luxon returned from London last night having also travelled to Singapore and Ireland last week, though the last leg was complicated by a slew of British MPs' resignations as they lost confidence in their prime minister, Boris Johnson.

He said the stop in Singapore aimed to understand how the public service there was focused and good at delivering outcomes, and the island nation's infrastructure and development capabilities. Ireland was a comparable size and economy to New Zealand but with double the GDP, he said, while the UK had housing and education initiatives that could be applied in New Zealand.

One thing he was not talking about while there was Covid-19.

"They've got a different set of circumstances. I have to be honest, the rest of the world's moving on and is operating - there wasn't a single Covid conversation I had while I was in Ireland with any political leader or official or any organisation that I met with," he told reporters today.

His return to home soil follows a rise in Covid-19 case numbers - topping 10,000 last week - as new variants increase reinfection rates and after-hours clinics the latest to report closures due to staff illness.

Asked about the government's leadership over the pandemic, he suggested some rules should change - including allowing more people to go back to work.

"The traffic light system is just way too complex and complicated and actually I don't think people have been paying much attention to it at all," he said.

"What we need is a real clear set of rules about some sensible places to have masking, certainly we want to be able to have isolation, I think we can have test-to-work so that more people can get back to work, and we need to make sure that we actually aren't doing things we're doing right now, which is we're restructuring our healthcare system.

"Actually, even if you're a household contact sitting and isolating at home, you could actually do a rapid antigen test and actually be okay to go to work if you're asymptomatic. That would help our workforce planning a little bit more."

On mask use, he suggested the government had not kept up with changing risk levels.

"Essentially since 2020 the risk kept changing and our response didn't change, and so if we think the risk is changing let's get really clear about how it is, and then I think we need to take the health advice and be really clear about what's relevant and what's not relevant.

"All round the world it's been a different setting, just last week in Singapore it was masks very much not outdoors but indoors it was necessary, certainly in Ireland there was no masking anywhere, and in the UK it was a mix."

He refused to say what mask rules he would introduce however, only that he would listen to the experts. It was put to him that New Zealand could not move on from the virus while case numbers were rising.

"Yeah, sure, let's do a dispassionate risk assessment of exactly what's changed, let's work out what we need to do and let's be really clear about communicating it to the New Zealand people, but complexing it with a traffic light system which just is a bit randomly applied isn't the right way to go about it."

While in London, Luxon gave a speech at a policy thinktank, lamenting low productivity in New Zealand and saying businesses were "getting soft and looking to the government for all their answers".

He said that was in the context of a speech about how hard it was for businesspeople in New Zealand under the Labour government.

"You hear a lot of businesses that are really struggling with costs and compliance and with red tape, and they're not making those next steps of investment because it's just too hard.

"What I'm saying to all small business owners and medium enterprises - and large ones for that matter, although we frankly don't have a lot of large ones in New Zealand and that's what we want is a lot more large ones that are successful globally - is that we're going to back them big time."

"We've got to unlock business growth because that's the lifeblood of New Zealand and it's how we grow our economy, it's how we create higher wages and salaries and it's how we get more freedom and choice for our people."

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