Judith Collins: Government announces new traffic light system, but at what cost?

OPINION:

What we saw today from the Prime Minister was dismaying for Kiwis all over New Zealand.

Aucklanders, in particular, who have now suffered almost 10 weeks of lockdown tuned in today expecting a clear path out. A clear plan and timeline for when they could see loved ones in aged care, kids back in school and family across New Zealand.

Since the announcement I have been inundated with emails of people at breaking point. A husband who hasn’t seen a wife in aged care in 11 weeks. A young man dying of cancer who can’t see friends and family spread across New Zealand. Grandparents who haven’t seen children and grandchildren stranded offshore for two years.

Businesses wanted a plan to open up, not simply an increase in government subsidies.

When I talk to a hairdresser in tears because her savings are all gone and she can’t pay her mortgage, my heart isn’t breaking for the bricks and mortar of her salon. It is her loss that I feel. She is losing something she has worked hard for and saved for over decades. Countless weekends, late nights and early mornings. She is losing her home, her retirement, her life’s work.

She’s been done in.

She feels powerless to do anything but watch her life’s work go down the drain. And now she’s been told she might have to wait months more to get any real income. She says she feels like giving up.

All across Auckland, and wider New Zealand, café, bar, gym, tourism and restaurant owners are going through the same despair.

I hope they survive this government.

New Zealand just can’t go on this way. We can’t keep our country divided by borders, keep people separated from loved ones, and allow the Government to send our life’s work up in smoke.

And what about the poor South Island? The Prime Minister seems to frequently forget that there is life to the south of Wellington. Are they expected to welcome potentially another five weeks in level 2 before they see any change?

Yes, we finally got a vaccine target out of the Prime Minister today. But the target presented is a hurdle too far. We are told we need every DHB at 90 per cent vaccination before we can move to a complicated and confused system that will still have lockdowns.

New Zealand has four DHBs that have less than 80 per cent of people with only one dose. It could be months before we reach the Prime Minister’s target. We may never reach it. That is not the certainty families and businesses across New Zealand wanted to hear. It is no certainty at all.

Even if we do reach the target, it is unclear what awaits us. A red-light Auckland could still see much of the city locked down, and a border dividing our country.

In just the first six weeks of Auckland’s lockdown 85,000 procedures and appointments were missed. Missed mammograms meaning breast cancer is detected later. Missed colonoscopies meaning colon cancer is missed. The health impacts of this lockdown are real. We have seen modelling on Covid-19 deaths, what about those which result from this government preventing vital screening and procedures?

Countries around the world are opening up. Australian states are ending lockdowns for those fully vaccinated once 70 per cent are fully vaccinated. Vaccine certificates are up and running meaning the fully vaccinated can go back to work, dine out or go to the gym. Every other OECD country has vaccine certificates.

Yet New Zealand’s isn’t going to be ready until, we are told, mid-December. Although the website has again been edited to “later this year”.

If Labour could deliver a simple web app that allows someone to prove vaccination, one million fully vaccinated Aucklanders could return to work tomorrow.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins needs to call health officials into his office tomorrow and tell them they have one week to get this up and running.

It seems trite to appeal to the Prime Minister’s kindness when it has become such a government buzzword in recent years, but I will do just that nonetheless. What the Jacinda Ardern Government is putting Kiwis through is nothing short of cruel.

I implore the Prime Minister to consider the cost of her “unique” Covid approach. Perhaps the most difficult task of a leader is to weigh the costs of their actions. I fear Jacinda Ardern’s answer to the question “at what cost?” is well off the mark.

New Zealand needs a path back to normality. Yes a vaccine target is needed, 85 per cent, or the first of December, whatever comes first, then New Zealand needs to be given its freedom back.

Judith Collins is the leader of the National Party.

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