National leader Judith Collins says Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was “talking to his audience” when he told them “we need to get out there and live with [Covid-19]”.
In a television interview on Tuesday, Morrison said Australia “can’t stay in the cave” and that “any state and territory that thinks that somehow they can protect themselves from Covid with the Delta strain forever, that’s just absurd”.
It comes as Morrison’s government faces criticism over its slow vaccine rollout amid growing Covid-19 case numbers.
Speaking on Breakfast, Collins said it was clear that it was “very difficult” for any country, including New Zealand, to handle the Delta variant.
She isn’t advocating for New Zealand to immediately ditch its elimination strategy, especially with a largely unvaccinated population.
“He [Morrison] is talking to his audience in Australia. Australians are looking at that and saying ‘we’re going to have to learn somehow to live with it’ but, we certainly can’t do it if you’re not vaccinated, that’s really important.”
Given the New Zealand Government knew the Delta would eventually come, Collins said they should have sped up their vaccine rollout earlier.
“We weren’t going to be safe forever,” she said, adding that was why the country needed to vaccinate people against the virus widely.
Collins said there was likely to be new variants of Covid-19 in the future, because “that’s the nature of the virus”.
Eventually, she said, New Zealand’s approach to Covid-19 could be likened to its approach with the flu, where enough people would be vaccinated that the most serious implications of the virus could be avoided.
“That is where we need to be.”
She added: “Let’s just get on and do it. Get vaccinated!”
Last Wednesday, Collins said New Zealand had “no choice” but to go into Alert Level 4 because of the Government’s “failure” to roll out vaccines fast enough.
On Q+A on Sunday, the Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins also began signalling that Delta was a game-changer.
"We still want to try to drive Covid out as much as we can. That hasn't changed," Hipkins said.
“Delta does raise some big questions that we're going to have to grapple with, you know less than a 24-hour period for someone getting it and passing it on to others ... that's like nothing we've dealt with in this pandemic so far, and it does change everything," said Hipkins.
He said this meant “existing protections” were starting “to look less adequate and less robust as a result of that”.
“We are looking very closely at what more we can do there, but yes it does raise some pretty big questions about what the long-term future of our plans are,” Hipkins said.
"At some point we will have to start to be more open in the future."
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Coast FM she was not "too fussed" about Morrison's stance because New Zealand had been making its decisions about the pandemic independent of other countries.
Ardern said there needed to be high vaccination rates across all regions and age groups of New Zealand.
"We can't live for lockdown forever and we don't intend to," she added.
Appearing on Breakfast after Collins, Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare said the Government now had the infrastructure and logistics in place to speed up the vaccine rollout.
He defended the vaccination programme so far, saying the Government needed to ensure it had the processes in place first before jabs were offered to more people.
“We’re in a good position. I know the Delta lockdown isn’t the best position for us to be in, but if we look around the world, this country has enjoyed huge liberties that other parts of the world have not.”
Under one quarter of New Zealand's population is currently fully vaccinated against Covid-19.