Leaked Cabinet paper emboldens Todd Muller; Jacinda Ardern fires back

Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 3 Jun 2020, 6:13PM

Leaked Cabinet paper emboldens Todd Muller; Jacinda Ardern fires back

Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 3 Jun 2020, 6:13PM

National Party leader Todd Muller claims to have a Cabinet paper about alert level 1 leaked to the party from yesterday's Cabinet meeting.

If true, it would be an embarrassment to the Government and a reflection that its systems are not watertight.

It is also a boost for Muller as the first leak since he took over the leadership.

Under Simon Bridges, National has claimed to have been leaked details throughout this parliamentary term, including about government plans for Waikeria Prison, the three strikes law, vocation education reforms and 1800 more police.

Muller used the paper, in Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's name, to push the case for an immediate move to alert level 1.

He quoted it during Question Time today: "From a public health perspective, alert level 1 means there has been a period of more than 28 days with no new cases of Covid-19 caused by community transmission, and there is an extremely low public health risk from the virus."

The last community transmission case was reported on April 30, more than a month ago, but director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has said that the last such case of concern was in early April.

That is because testing around more recent cases, according to Bloomfield, has not shown any onward transmission.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, who is also NZ First leader, also used the 28-day window of no community transmission cases to press his cases for a move to level 1.

In reply to Muller during Question Time, Ardern didn't deny it was a Cabinet paper.

She said it was right to wait until Monday before Cabinet assesses New Zealand's readiness for a level 1 move.

Community transmission was only one of the factors that would inform Cabinet's decision, she said. Others included the economy, the public's willingness to comply with alert level rules, trends in transmission including the number of days since the last case, Bloomfield's confidence in the Covid data, and "unknowns".

She did not elaborate on "unknowns", but it may be a reference to the time it would take for new cases to emerge from reopened bars (since May 21) or 100-person gatherings (since May 29).

Cases tend to take about 10 to 14 days to come through in the testing data.

"We know there is asymptomatic transmission. We know there is a long tail. I would rather move once, do it right, and not continue to risk our economy," she said.

"We must listen to the advice not only of the scientists, epidemiologists, but also the director general of health."

She took a shot at Muller: "If the member thinks he knows more than all of them combined, I congratulate him but I would rather listen to the advice, get it right and not risk our economy."

Muller played on the difference of opinion between Ardern and Peters, saying Ardern should make a Captain's Call and move the country to level 1.

He said every day at level 2 allowed businesses to sink further.

Ardern replied: "I have proudly made Captain's Calls all the way through and it is one of the reasons, alongside our Team of Five Million, we are the envy of the world."

She added there was not enough confidence about undetected cases of Covid-19 to move to alert level 1 before Monday.

The Cabinet paper, obtained by the Herald, is understood to have been given to a National MP.

"The permissive nature of the alert level 1 controls reflect it is predicated upon having eliminated chains of transmission and there having been no new cases from community transmission for at least 28 days," it says.

"If that has been achieved, and we have confidence in our border controls, there is theoretically no need for restrictions on people's movements, interactions or activities."

Good hygiene practices will be a key defence against the hygiene re-emerging, while contact tracing, testing, isolation and quarantine will apply at all alert levels.

The paper includes the "golden rules" of level 1, which Ardern outlined today.

Businesses will not have to keep records of customers for contact-tracing purposes, and physical distancing won't be mandatory, but they will be encouraged.

Large gatherings including conference, concerts and sports events will be allowed, and Ardern proposed that event organisers be supported to keep a record of attendees voluntarily.

Yesterday Muller was not prepared to push for level 1 immediately because he said he didn't have all the information.

Today he said Ardern's laying out of the necessary criteria had allowed him to change his mind.