It’s been a big few days for alternative Covid response plans. After John Key and Act, Judith Collins has just released the National Party blueprint. Alice Neville cuts to the chase.
What’s all this then?
National has this morning released its plan for the next 12 months of New Zealand’s Covid-19 response, a comprehensive 58-page document outlining steps the party believes the country should take to see the end of lockdowns and New Zealand opening up to the world.
Right, I know the one – isn’t that why Sir John Key’s face was plastered all over every newspaper in the country at the weekend? Smug hermit kingdom and all that?
Ah, no. You’re referring to an opinion piece by the three-term National prime minister published across a range of media outlets on Sunday, where he outlined five ideas to transform New Zealand’s approach to tackling Covid-19.
Oh. Stole his old party’s thunder a bit, didn’t he?
Think of it as the warm-up act.
(There is one mention of “hermit kingdom” in the introductory note to the National plan. No “smug”, though.)
So what does the current National Party’s plan entail?
Basically, it maps a path to move from elimination as it is to “vigorous suppression” of the virus. There are three pillars – invest, evolve and open.
Tell me more about those pillars.
The first one, invest, is the most comprehensive, with 10 steps.
What are the steps?
The first couple are about vaccination. National proposes “supercharging” the vaccine rollout through a range of measures, including vaccinating in schools, tertiary education providers and in hospitality/nightlife areas, as well as in MIQ, considering cash or voucher incentives, mandating health worker vaccination, increasing resourcing for Māori health providers, going door to door in vulnerable communities, and making better use of GPs and pharmacies, to name a few. It also proposes shoring up vaccine supply contracts with Pfizer so we can be all ready to go with booster shots.
Are we doing any of this already?
Some, and the government will no doubt push that line. Certainly door-to-door vaccination in vulnerable communities has been mentioned in recent weeks, and mandatory health worker vaccination is being “actively considered”.
So vaccination, tick. What else?
Contact tracing. Increase resourcing for it, prioritise training multilingual contact tracers, work with community providers, use Bluetooth properly (that’s been a problem), et cetera.
Makes sense. Next?
Saliva testing. Make daily saliva tests mandatory for border workers and people in MIQ, and roll it out for arrivals from low- and medium-risk countries. Work with public hospitals to get it in place for the workforce there.
Any other thoughts on testing?
Yep. Roll rapid tests out for essential workers, those arriving from low- and medium-risk countries, and hospital patients.
Any other big ideas?
You bet – they want to create a standalone agency to manage the overall Covid-19 response. Called Te Korowai Kōkiri, it would be based in Manukau, not Wellington.
What about MIQ?
No more hotels – they want purpose-built facilities opening early 2022.
Any thoughts on vaccine passports?
Yep – an app that would record vax and testing info.
The plan calls for investment in next-generation Covid treatments, with a ring-fenced fund within the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund.
ICU capacity has been a point of contention. Any plans there?
You bet – they want to urgently implement a specialist healthcare workforce migration plan, get more healthcare workers trained and fast-track new hospital wards.
When New Zealand’s at 70-75% vaccination (we’re currently at just 44% fully vaccinated) it’s time for the next pillar – evolve. This means “pursue elimination without nationwide lockdowns”. When we’re at 85-90% vaccination, it’s time to switch to the “vigorous suppression” strategy, meaning we can open the borders.
Would MIQ remain?
Yes – for travellers from high-risk destinations, and for positive community cases who can’t isolate at home. Between 1,000 and 1,500 permanent quarantine units would be built outside of urban Auckland, close to the airport and the “health and security workforce”.
Who wouldn’t have to go into MIQ?
A traffic light system would be used for travellers – fully vaccinated travellers from “green”, ie low-risk, countries would not have to isolate but would require a negative pre-departure test plus rapid testing and saliva testing on arrival. Those from “orange” countries would do seven days’ isolation at home, and those from red countries would still do the full 14 days in MIQ. Unvaccinated people who aren’t New Zealand citizens or permanent residents wouldn’t be allowed in. Unvaccinated NZ citizens and residents would, but would have to do 14 days in MIQ.
How much would that cost?
About $200 million, by National’s estimate. When the facilities are no longer needed, they could be repurposed as refugee resettlement accommodation or transitional community housing.
Who did National work with to develop this plan?
They won’t say. “We’re not naming the experts we engaged with publicly, because they’re in prominent positions and don’t wish to be named publicly,” said Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop at the press conference announcing the plan’s release.
Have you created a data visualisation showing commonly used words in National’s plan?
Thought you’d never ask.