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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

Question No. 7—Prime Minister

7. DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement in relation to vaccine targets, “It is not as simple as that. If only the world were that simple”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): I stand by my full statement—quote—”If we have a proportion of New Zealanders who opt out, we will have outbreaks that will lead to restrictions, and that will impinge on everyone’s lives. So it is not a simple equation of ‘If you’ve just had a chance, then unfortunately game’s up and it’s all over for everyone.’ It is not as simple as that. If only the world were that simple.”—end quote.

David Seymour: Is the Government’s policy now to have no numerical target, one numerical target, or a series of targets for different groups and locations in terms of vaccination rates?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’ll refer the member to the comments that I made yesterday—that we are continuing to do work to finalise the detail around the COVID protection framework that we’ll be releasing on Friday. But I have indicated that we will give direction and guidance on the trigger into that framework and what will need to be achieved in order to move into it and we’ll be providing that detail on Friday.

David Seymour: Can the Prime Minister describe the work that is required to finalise those details between now and Friday?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As the member will have seen from some of the public commentary, we have been engaging with those who’ll be most directly affected by the framework as we finalise the details, keeping in mind that this is the kind of framework that acts in a similar way to what you’ve seen with the alert levels, so it actually does need to have quite a significant amount of work around it.

David Seymour: Has Cabinet already decided at what vaccination rates Auckland and New Zealand will be able to remove current restrictions, and did it make that decision at Cabinet yesterday?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I just said, there are elements of the work programme that we continue to finalise in preparation for release on Friday and that will be my consistent response to those questions.

David Seymour: Point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a very specific question about a specific aspect of the plan that’s under scrutiny here. The Prime Minister hasn’t addressed that. She’s just said that there’s a generic range of questions that she’s working on. If she won’t answer specific questions, then there’s really no point in having question time and asking her questions.

SPEAKER: Well, whether or not there’s a point of having a question time and whether the member wants to take part in it is something for him. But leaving that to one side, the member does know that, one, if he wants a very specific question, he should ask it, but even then he cannot require a yes/no answer. Speakers have made that clear I think for at least the last 100 years and probably quite a long way before that.

David Seymour: Point of order. With respect, sir—

SPEAKER: Well, the member doesn’t mean “with respect”, but carry on.

David Seymour: Oh, Mr Speaker, I’m hurt by that comment. You should have more respect for yourself. The fact is I didn’t ask for a yes or no answer; I asked a specific question about a specific aspect of a plan to be addressed and, clearly, the Prime Minister hasn’t done that. All she’s done is persisted in saying there are details. The point of a supplementary question is if a member asks what those details are, they’ve at least got to address the question about those details.

SPEAKER: And the Prime Minister very clearly said that those matters would be subject of comments further or later in week, and while I’m sure the member won’t be satisfied with that answer, the question was addressed.

David Seymour: What new information has the Government received, or it is waiting to receive, about school openings, between yesterday when the announcement was announced and tomorrow when the announcement will be made about school openings?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Every decision that we’ve made is based on the most up-to-date information about the nature of the outbreak that we have. I think it’s particularly interesting, of course, to see, as you would have heard me say today, that under-39s—in fact, if I were to give the member the precise number, 16 percent of our cases today are 10- to 19-year-olds and 12 are zero to 9-year-olds. So we even factor in that level of detail in the decisions that we make. We also look overall at things like vaccination rates amongst those who may be eligible for schools reconvening. All of that is material as we look to the safety of decision making around schools reconvening. As I’ve just said earlier in the House, in House time, Minister Hipkins will be setting out some of those plans tomorrow. But we had in fact already signalled that schools would not be reopening this week, so there was no expectation that they were.

David Seymour: If the plans announced this week can change with information received by the day, how can the public have confidence that those plans will endure for longer than, say, the roadmap released a few weeks ago?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member is conflating two completely different things. We’ve always said that the decisions that we’re making relative to this individual outbreak, whilst we are vaccinating we will continue to look at our ability even while we do not have high rates of vaccination to see if we can make alterations to restrictions based on our ability to contain the outbreak. Secondly, we’ve also said that vaccinations do make a difference to what you’re able to do in the future if you have high vaccination rates—that we intend to operate differently when we have high vaccination rates. And so, of course, alongside with dealing with this outbreak, as it stands, we’re also looking to the future and setting out a framework that incorporates vaccination rates at a high level.

David Seymour: Why do double-vaccinated Kiwis with a negative pre-departure test returning to their country still have to go through 14 days of managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ), if they can get it, when people with a positive COVID test are being allowed to home isolate?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course, when we identify a positive COVID case in the community, there’s an assessment undertaken as to whether or not that person would be best placed in managed isolation or continue to be cared for in their home, in the same way that we are also now piloting the idea of having people coming in at the border being able to isolate at home. We do still have cases coming in at the border. Knowing where those cases are and who they are and that they are being properly contained continues to be important to New Zealand, because every modeller demonstrates that even when you’re operating with a slightly high tolerance of COVID in the community, if you’re seeding too many cases, then that does have an exponential effect. But we are looking at our MIQ arrangements in our current environment. We already have the reconnecting New Zealand work. We are expediting some of that work and looking at things like shortened MIQ and home isolation. Some of that work was already well under way.

David Seymour: In what assessment does a person with a negative COVID test have more chance of passing on COVID than someone the Government knows has COVID because they just had a positive test but are still allowed to isolate at home?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: So I don’t think these two scenarios that the member presents—of course, one group you could almost say, coming in at the border, essentially you’re almost treating them as contacts, and so we do have requirements of the way that we treat contacts. Some of them do still go into facilities, even if they’ve been in the community. We have contacts that will go into facilities if they’re unable to isolate safely at home. So it’s just about looking at those two different groups and making sure we’re consistent between the two. We are in a transition period. But we’ve already set out that the bones of that needs to include the ability to isolate at home, which, as I’ve already said, we’re piloting and we’re doing that both for positive community cases where it is appropriate, and we’re looking to do that for travellers where it is appropriate, and we’re also looking at things like shortened MIQ. So I think the things that the member is seeking we do have under way.

MIL OSI