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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. I especially stand by the Government’s decision to make booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine available to all New Zealanders 18 years or older who have completed their two-dose course more than six months ago. This announcement follows approval by Medsafe and will ensure the best protection possible for those who have received their earlier doses here in New Zealand or abroad. Unlike other countries, boosters will be available for all who qualify from later this month. I observe that in many countries in Europe, some have only just started their booster campaigns, and many are limiting who are able to access boosters. We expect around 450,000 people will be eligible for their booster shot before the end of the year. You’ll be able to make your booking on from 26 November.

Hon Judith Collins: Why is she waiting until tomorrow to tell Aucklanders suffering through 13 weeks of lockdown what the rules will be for travelling this summer?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Simply because, of course, as the member will remember, not every decision that’s made by Cabinet is then announced within half an hour of the decision. This is a particular decision that does have operational impacts. Once Cabinet made that decision, it’s only natural, of course, that we would want to ensure that agencies were aware of it before it was publicly announced.

Hon Judith Collins: Does she expect the rules to change between yesterday, when Cabinet discussed and decided them, and tomorrow, when she plans to announce them?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No, but nor is that the reason. I’ve just already given the member the rationale. I would also highlight for the member that there are many decisions that we make that we do share immediately. Of course, alert level decisions, for instance, are discussed at Cabinet at 1 o’clock and then shared at 4 o’clock. This is, however, a decision where we did want to make sure that we had awareness across agencies and those affected by the decision.

David Seymour: How can there be operational implications requiring awareness by agencies when all she proposes to do is announce a date which is, presumably, several weeks away?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course, without going into some of the detail, it will not just be a date.

Hon Judith Collins: Why didn’t the Government work out a plan for regional travel in the 18 months before this outbreak?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As the member will be aware, there have been a number of occasions where we have had to operate land boundaries; we have done so and then, of course, following elimination, they’ve been able to be lifted. Delta, for every country around the world, has been an absolute game-changer. It did not even exist 18 months ago. In fact, I would point out to the member that many of the countries’ experience that they’re having now, with the likes of the Netherlands and Austria, despite high vaccine rates, having to re-impose restrictions is because Delta is behaving very differently than, for instance, Alpha. If we were still in that phase of the pandemic, we wouldn’t be having many of these conversations.

Hon Judith Collins: So does she stand by her statement yesterday that the traffic light system “provides greater protection for New Zealanders than we see with the current alert level system.”; if so, why haven’t we moved to it already.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, when coupled with good vaccination rates. At the time that we announced that framework, the vaccination rates simply weren’t high enough to be able to move into it, particularly it also would have had equity issues. We, of course, in that framework do require the use of vaccine passes to ensure that you’re able to operate at a reasonable level; having a reasonable number of people vaccinated is also required. I would also point out it would not have been safe, at that point, to transition to the framework in Auckland with the outbreak the way it was, with the vaccination levels at that rate. It does require decent vaccine levels.

Hon Judith Collins: So whose fault is it that 20 percent of New Zealanders were double-vaccinated when the latest lockdown occurred?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Unlike that member, I’ve never been in the practice of blaming the existence of COVID-19 on anyone. Every single country around the world has had to take on this challenge. And do you know what? As a Government, the fact that we have one of the lowest mortality rates in the world; one of the most successful, in terms of the recovery of our economy; the lowest unemployment rates; growth in GDP; and some of the lowest case rates around the world—as a Government, we acknowledge the hurt that many people have experienced, but relative to other countries, it has been far, far less. I think history will tell the story of the team of 5 million.

Hon Judith Collins: Point of order. My question was very clearly who is at fault.

SPEAKER: Order! Order! That was answered in the first part of the answer.

Hon Judith Collins: Why are thousands of people allowed to go shopping at Sylvia Park in Auckland, but an Auckland restaurant cannot serve people in their outside dining area?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Taken across, as a whole, the profile of hospitality is just different to retail, and that has been recognised throughout this pandemic.

SPEAKER: Order! Order! The Leader of the Opposition asked a question. Her own team should not be shouting down the answer, if, in fact, it was a serious question.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: You will not find a country around the world that I can think of, that in the way that they have worked with hospitality, have treated hospitality and retail the same. In that vein, there are some countries who have only recently allowed their hospitality services to reopen fully since February 2020. We’ve been in a vastly different set of circumstances. Yes, they have been at the front line of restrictions, but when we move in to the new protection framework, that is when the industry will have greater certainty, and that will be part of our progress in our response to COVID.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Point of order. I waited until the end of the Prime Minister’s answer to point out that the interjections by my colleagues, which I would consider to be rare and reasonable in the circumstances, were not a reflection of the quality of the question but of the quality of the answer. If you are suggesting now that those rare and reasonable interjections, and from time to time, some levity, cannot be part of the exchange in oral question time, I think that would be a shame.

SPEAKER: Well, I totally agree with member if they were rare. They weren’t rare; there was a barrage from at least 15 members.