The National Party wants nationwide lockdowns to be “a last resort” once 70 to 75 per cent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated – and border restrictions to ease for the fully vaccinated when coverage hits 85 per cent.
It also wants a 1500-room purpose-built MIQ facility near Auckland airport, a new pandemic agency based in Manukau, and Pfizer booster shots to be ordered immediately.
The party released its Covid strategy today, a day after party leader Judith Collins said fully vaccinated Kiwis would be able to come home by Christmas.
The plan, however, does not have a timeline for opening the border to all Kiwis.
It specifies a minimum of 85 per cent vaccination coverage of the eligible population – which would be just over 70 per cent of the total population – before border restrictions would start to be eased for the fully vaccinated.
Te Pūnaha Matatini modelling released last week estimated 4314 deaths with 85 per cent of people aged 12 and over fully vaccinated, alongside moderate public health measures including QR scanning and mask wearing, as well as comprehensive testing, tracing and case isolation.
This would drop to 1411 deaths if 85 per cent of people aged 5 and up are fully vaccinated.
From elimination to 'vigorous suppression' strategy
National’s Covid-19 response spokesman Chris Bishop said the number of deaths would be far fewer because public health measures would be stronger.
Studies have shown that Māori and Pasifika are more vulnerable to adverse health outcomes if they catch the virus, but National has no vaccination target for any ethnic group.
Instead to help ensure no group is left vulnerable, every DHB region would need at least 80 per cent coverage, while each 10-year age group would need at least 70 per cent coverage.
Bishop said once 85 per cent vaccination coverage is reached, it was time to move away from elimination and towards “vigorous suppression”.
“Delta is in the country right now and may never leave. Even the Government admits it may not be possible to get cases back to zero, and if we do, Delta will be back again anyway,” he said.
“The Government is being intellectually dishonest in maintaining the fiction that borders can reopen while New Zealand simultaneously maintains an elimination strategy. In a world with Delta, that is impossible.”
Ending lockdowns and opening the border would be predicated on first implementing 10 steps, including:
• Vaccination centres at universities with consideration of “cash or voucher incentives”, churches, outside nightclubs.
• Establishing a rangatahi advisory group to reach young Māori, going door-to-door in high-risk communities, and commissioning behavioural scientists to suss out the best incentives to lift coverage.
• Order Pfizer booster shots immediately, and mandate vaccinating healthcare workers.
• Mandatory daily saliva testing for border workers, those in MIQ, and workers in public hospitals. Ubiquitous rapid antigen testing by the middle of next year.
• Establishing a new pandemic agency Te Korowai Kōkiri, based in Manukau, and build purpose-built quarantine facilities near Auckland airport to open in early 2022.
• Fast-track building new hospital wards to increase bed capacity.
Elimination would continue but national lockdowns should no longer be needed once 70 to 75 per cent vaccination coverage is reached, Bishop said – though they could still be used as a “last resort”.
Vigorous suppression would replace elimination when 85 per cent is reached.
“This is a strategy where New Zealand aims to keep the number of Covid-19 cases very low, but not necessarily at zero,” Bishop said.
“There will likely be cases of infection under this strategy, but the aim is to rapidly respond when they occur and minimise the number of people infected.”
The borders could then start re-opening. Travellers would be categorised into low, medium and high risk, with isolation requirements that largely align with the Government’s plan to reconnect with the world.
Low-risk travellers who are fully vaccinated would have a pre-departure test, a rapid antigen or saliva test on arrival, and would not need any isolation requirements. Low-risk regions would include Queensland, ACT, Western Australia, Cook Islands, Taiwan, and most Pacific countries.
Medium-risk travellers, if fully vaccinated, would isolate at home for a week. Medium-risk regions would include NSW, Victoria, Singapore, USA, the UK, and many European countries.
Those from high-risk countries would need an MIQ stay, including all unvaccinated Kiwis.
Unvaccinated people who aren’t citizens or residents would not be allowed into the country, as is the case now unless they are granted a border exemption.
“Under this plan, Kiwis coming through the green and orange pathways would be able to come home by Christmas,” Bishop said.
National also wants to prioritise residency applications for critical healthcare workers, and offer residency on arrival for specialist nurses.
Collins suggested earlier today that the Government should adopt the policyin its entirety so Kiwis could be able to get home and people could travel again.
National is being careful about revealing who peer-reviewed the plan as they did not want them to be attacked by the Government, Collins said.
When asked if people could die from National’s proposed policy, she pointed out that the country could not stay in this situation forever and “living in a hermit kingdom” – a term used by Sir John Key earlier this week to describe the country in its current state, living with Covid-19.
Collins went on to say that people die in car accidents, but that did not stop them from driving.
There are also other consequences of lockdown such as medical treatments being delayed, mental health concerns and businesses collapsing, she said.
Collins said yesterday that the plan would focus on vaccinations as well as look at other public health measures that would support the Covid response.
The party’s Covid-19 spokesman, Chris Bishop, said the strategy would allow for different border measures for any Kiwi who was double vaccinated and wanting to get back home.
“I think it would be fair to say if you are a double-vaccinated Kiwi offshore, or a double-vaccinated Kiwi in New Zealand, you will like our plan,” Bishop said yesterday.
Auckland's prospects for level 2 move
National’s big reveal comes as Aucklanders have about another week until the Government reveals whether or not the city will drop down to alert level 2 or stay in level 3 lockdown.
Auckland University epidemiologist Rod Jackson took a somewhat draconian stance on the fight against virus – acknowledging that we were at war with Covid and therefore a hard approach is needed.
A 90 per cent first vaccinations level would not be enough to influence the Government’s decision for the country’s largest city to drop alert levels next week.
Jackson said the key was the number of unlinked Covid cases – and there are still unlinked cases in the community being reported, he told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking this morning.
“We have to stamp them out or else it’s a Melbourne or Sydney,” he said, referring to the ongoing Covid situation across the Tasman.
Where to get a vaccination in Auckland – without a booking
Auckland was not in a position to cope with such an outbreak, he said.
“We need to pull out any stop and I want GPs ringing up individual patients.”
The total number of active Covid cases in New Zealand now stands at 216.
A total of 3961 people have since recovered from the virus since the overall pandemic started.
Fourteen people are fighting the virus in hospital; with two people at North Shore Hospital, six at Middlemore and six patients at Auckland City Hospital.
The Covid death toll remains at 27.
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