'Opening Up': National releases 3 pillar, 10-step Covid-19 plan

Source: 1News

National has released what it says is a "clear plan" to tackle Covid-19 for the next 12 months and eventually reopen New Zealand to the world. 

Judith Collins

Titled 'Opening Up' the plan is divided into three pillars — invest, evolve and open.

Contained in pillar one — invest — are 10 steps the country needs to take. 

These are:

  • Supercharging the vaccine roll-out
  • Order vaccine boosters
  • Upgrade contact tracing capability
  • Roll-out saliva testing at the border and in the community 
  • Roll out rapid tests for essential workers and in the community
  • Create a dedicated agency, Te Korowai Kōkiri, to manage the country's response
  • Build purpose-built quarantine
  • Launch a digital app for vaccination authentication
  • Invest in next-generation Covid treatments
  • Prepare hospitals and expand ICU capacity 
  • National leader Judith Collins said New Zealand could not remain a "hermit kingdom forever". 

    "Instead of investing in contact tracing, ICU capacity and purpose-built MIQ, the Government frittered the Covid Response Fund away on art therapy, cameras on fishing boats, and Three Waters reform," she criticised.

    "Kiwis have done the hard yards. They have willingly followed harsh lockdown measures and other Covid-19 restrictions and, increasingly, they have been vaccinated for the common good. It’s time for them to be offered a vision and a plan about how their hard work will pay off.

    "New Zealanders now have a clear plan from National. 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."

    In order to "evolve" and eventuallly "open", National wanted to first see a vaccination rate of 70 to 75 per cent in those aged 12 and over to avoid nationwide lockdowns. 

    An 80 to 85 per cent "milestone" would be required before reopening to the world with a traffic light system of risk, the plan said. 

    Fully vaccinated low-risk and medium-risk travellers would not have to go through MIQ.

    Unvaccinated non-citizens and non-permanent residents, however, would be banned from travelling to New Zealand.

    National said elimination was the right strategy with low vaccination rates, so once they reached about 85 per cent it would move away from this and to a "vigorous suppression" approach.

    This would mean low, not zero, Covid-19 cases.

    Hospital workers treating a Covid-19 patient in the ICU (file).

    As part of supercharging the vaccine roll-out, there would be a focus on South Auckland, while cash or vouchers will be incentives to getting students vaccinated at centres set up on campuses. 

    Door-to-door vaccinations in high-risk communities and those with low vaccine uptake was part of this, while people in MIQ would be vaccinated and vaccinators would go to schools before the end of 2021 and vaccinate those aged 12 and over.

    National's justification for South Auckland to be vaccinated as a priority was due to there being three major Covid-19 clusters centred there — August 2020, February 2021 and August/September 2021.

    It said the area had high deprivation, meaning housing was crowded and people were living in vulnerable conditions.

    South Auckland was also home to "major" MIQ facilities and was where the "vast majority" of returnees were entering the country, via the airport. 

    Essential and border workers also lived in the area, the plan explained.

    National's plan described the Government's roll-out as a "monumental failure of public policy". 

    It said until August New Zealand had the slowest roll-out in the OECD and how just under 17 per cent of the population was fully vaccinated by August 7, when the Delta variant is thought to have entered the country.

    The party would introduce mandatory daily saliva testing for border workers and those in quarantine, while rapid antigen testing would be required in some cases for entering the country.

    It would also be rolled out to essential workers and would have a place in primary care and getting admitted to hospital.

    National would also create a "dedicated and standalone agency" — Te Korowai Kōkiri — to manage the country's Covid-19 response. Instead of being based in Wellington, it would be based in Auckland's Manukau. 

    By 2022, National would open a purpose-built MIQ facility. It would have 1000 to 1500 units and "associated facilities" and would be located close to Auckland's airport. 

    It would cost about $200 million to build, excluding the land it would be built on, but consents would be fast-tracked to get it up quickly. 

    The life-span of the "modular" units would be 50 to 70 years.

    "They could be transported and changed to alternative use in the future, such as refugee resettlement accommodation or transitional community housing," the plan noted.

    "We foresee the need for purpose-built quarantine facilities for the next three to five years."

    Next-generation treatments for Covid-19 included Ronapreve, Sotrovimab and Molnupiravir. 

    Both Ronapreve and Sotrovimab were described as monocolonal antibody treatments used to treat or prevent the virus. Molnupiravir is an antiviral used during the early days of a person's infection.

    People walk past a MIQ facility

    Expanding New Zealand's ICU capacity would largely be done through recruiting 3000 doctors and nurses from overseas from the Expression of Interest pool. 

    National would also prioritise and fast-track residence applications for critical healthcare workers and ensure MIQ spaces were set aside for them.

    National's plan said the recent Delta outbreak revealed the country's hospitals were still "woefully unprepared".

    It said instead of ensuring hospitals were ready for another outbreak, the Government had "inexplicabably" chosen to focus on restructuring the entire health system instead.

    The plan cited news articles and a Ministry of Health document when it said no new ICU beds were provisioned in the five months since Delta appeared in the New Zealand's MIQ facilities and that the number of beds had fallen since April 2020. 

    "It takes around a decade to train specialist nurses and doctors for ICU, which is time we don’t have.

    "Fortunately, there are thousands of fully trained health professionals who are ready, willing and able to come to New Zealand right now. If the Government only let them, these ambitious people could help us significantly increase our ICU capacity in a relatively short amount of time. It’s really a no-brainer."

    ACT welcomes plan

    ACT leader David Seymour said National had put forward a "suite" of measures similar to those contained in its Covid-19 response documents and statements released over the last year. 

    This included supercharging the roll-out, vaccine boosters, upgrading contact tracing, rolling out saliva and rapid antigen testing, having a Covid-19 response agency, vaccine authentication, investment in treatments and preparing hospitals. 

    Seymour said it was now time for the Government to get on board. 

    "It’s a clear signal that ACT and National have the ideas and the follow through to present an alternative Government. Such an alternative is clearly needed as Ardern retreats into a smug but increasingly indebted Hermit Kingdom."