Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard
Question No. 2—Prime Minister
2. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all of her Government’s statements and actions?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes. In particular, I stand by this Government’s announcement on Friday on our next step in our response to COVID-19: The COVID-19 protection framework will provide a pathway out of lockdown and will allow businesses and events to open to those who are vaccinated in New Zealand. By setting a target of 90 percent fully vaccinated across each of the 20 DHB regions, we’re balancing the need for New Zealand to return to some additional ways of life that we have not had for some time and do everything we can to ensure no one is left behind. We’re supporting this transition with up to $940 million per fortnight in our business boost package and $120 million to accelerate our Māori vaccination rates, but the responsibility, of course, lies with all of us to continue to do all we can to support one another to be vaccinated.
Hon Judith Collins: What advice has she sought regarding the mental health impact of keeping Auckland under lockdown for at least another four weeks?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Well, of course, the length of time that will be spent in level 3 restrictions is dependent on a number of things. Firstly, we have set a target of each of the DHBs there reaching 90 percent. I note this morning that we are just 11,000 vaccines shy of reaching that 90 percent target for first doses. So, of course, the quicker that that is achieved, the quicker our second doses and, of course, the quicker that those level 3 restrictions will be removed. I note the member herself has not proposed anything earlier than 1 December. The second thing that it is contingent on, of course, is the outbreak itself. We’ve still kept the step-downs available to us so that if we are able to ease in the meantime, we will continue to do so. To answer the member’s question on mental health, I receive a range of pieces of information, both contacts made to things like our Youthline—I’ve recently received a report from the Child and Youth Wellbeing unit on the impacts of lockdown on children and, of course, I do receive information from the chambers of commerce and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, daily, on the hotline calls that they’re receiving. So we know, of course, the strain across the board that restrictions place on people.
Hon Judith Collins: Does she accept that her Government’s inability to produce something as basic as proof of vaccination means a million vaccinated Aucklanders are still stuck in lockdown with no end in sight?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.
Hon Judith Collins: Why didn’t she use the last 18 months to expand our ICU capacity, and is this failure the reason we now need a traffic light system?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.
Hon Judith Collins: Do we currently have enough ICU capacity to manage COVID?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes.
Hon Judith Collins: Will she apologise for her slow vaccine roll-out and failure to prepare for an outbreak that caused thousands of small businesses to close?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course no one—no one—wants to have the impacts that COVID is having on our communities, whether it be the health of those who have experienced COVID, those who’ve experienced the loss of life within their families, or, indeed, the impacts on the economy. But relative to other countries, of which none have come away without an impact being felt, of all countries, New Zealand has fared amongst the best: some of the lowest cases in the OECD, lowest hospitalisations, lowest death rates, and an economy that has fared extraordinarily well, and that is because of the choices that we’ve made, and that will need to be the case going forward. Our ambition, through higher vaccination rates, is to still minimise and protect the general population against the impacts of COVID-19, particularly when we know that even with a highly vaccinated population, if it’s not properly managed you can still have impacts on business and, of course, people’s lives.
Hon Judith Collins: So how does the traffic light system announced last Friday interact with the Auckland roadmap steps system announced just 18 days earlier; isn’t it true the Government is just making it up as it goes along?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Absolutely not, and if the member had listened to either the announcements on the day or even the reference I made in my answer just now, then that would have become clear. The traffic light system has been designed to work in the environment where you have a highly vaccinated population, because it does remove some of the things that we’ve used previously when we haven’t had the tools of vaccine. It, for instance, uses much more localised lockdowns if you have a situation with low vaccination rates in a population, but it does not use things like alert level 3, and so that is why it can only really be safely used in a highly vaccinated environment. In the meantime, as I’ve just said to the member, the step-downs continue to be available to us, but we assess those against both the outbreak as well as vaccination levels.
Hon Judith Collins: How does she think the New Zealand economy is going to respond in the future to the 4.9 percent increase in inflation?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Well, we’re not alone in having experienced that. The likes of Canada and others are seeing similar impacts, and of course, you can point to, in many ways, the impacts of COVID, particularly the pressure that it’s putting on supply chain. Most speculate, or many speculate, that this is not something that will be long term. But in the meantime, we need to do what we can to ensure that we are meeting the needs, particularly, of those lowest-income New Zealanders as they feel the impacts of COVID-related increases in the cost of living.