'Dog and pony show' - John Key lashes Govt's drawn-out Covid announcements

Newstalk ZB / NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 23 Mar 2022, 7:58am
Epidemiologists say it's time for the Government to replace our "highly inefficient" Covid-19 traffic lights with a smarter system the country could use to tackle all viruses. Photo / Michael Craig

'Dog and pony show' - John Key lashes Govt's drawn-out Covid announcements

Newstalk ZB / NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 23 Mar 2022, 7:58am

Former Prime Minister John Key has criticised the Government's "dog and pony show", in the way it is drawing out critical announcements on the future of New Zealand's Covid response. 

"Why do we have this dog and pony show where the Government basically wanders along and says I'm going to make an announcement to the announcement to the announcement," Key told Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB today. 

He described the Government's motives as trying to "get the maximum theatre" by announcing its Cabinet decisions two days later "as if it's like completely independent to the lives of New Zealanders". 

He said there would be a small percentage of people who would want the likes of vaccine passes retained but the vast majority of New Zealanders were "over it". 

"They want to re-engage with the rest of the world. Why do you have restrictions on anything - the answer is to keep people safe and change their behaviour. Well guess what? We changed their behaviour - 95 per cent of the country is vaccinated, good on them, I have been a 100 per cent supporter of any effort to get to that point, it keeps them and their family safe. 

"But the 5 per cent who aren't vaccinated are never going to get vaccinated. And if we keep doing what we are doing, we will have to keep running the economy the way we are running it, which is on the national credit card. Grant Robertson says we don't need to make money anymore - we just borrow money." 

Key said the simple bottom line was that most restrictions and rules needed to be lifted. "No one is checking in anymore [with QR codes], and even if you do check-in, I don't even know what they do with that information anymore." 

Key said he was worried for New Zealand domestic tourism, in that many Kiwis would soon be heading overseas for a holiday after two years of pent-up demand. And young Kiwis would also be heading on their OEs. 

"In my day as PM we had about plus-80,000 people coming in a year, which is great for the workforce and for the skills we needed for the economy. Well, we're bleeding people to the world now. And I think that will get worse unless the government actually changes the rules." 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will this morning announce changes to vaccine pass and mandate settings, and the wider traffic light framework. 

Cabinet made the decisions on Monday but Ardern said at the time more work was needed on them before they could be unveiled. She also said they would not take effect immediately. 

The decisions, to be announced at 11am in Wellington, come as the Omicron wave starts to peak in Auckland, and slows across the rest of the country. 

With high vaccination rates and many of the unvaccinated now having had Covid-19, Ardern has said the Government could look to safely scale back some of the requirements around vaccine passes and mandates and overall settings. 

Act has been calling for the vaccine passes and mandates to be dropped immediately, while National wants them gone by the time Australian tourists can arrive: April 13. 

The Greens, meanwhile, say Covid protection measures should only be relaxed once the Omicron peak was well past, and instead of a fixation on a date, the focus should be on better protecting vulnerable people. 

Ardern has indicated the changes would likely not come into place until the Omicron peak had passed - in line with recommendations from experts. 

There were 15 deaths, 1016 people in hospital and 20,907 community Covid cases reported on Tuesday. 

Twenty-five people were in intensive-care units around the country. 

These deaths took the total number of publicly reported Covid-related deaths to 199 and the seven-day rolling average of reported deaths to 10. 

On Tuesday, director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said it appeared the peak in daily case numbers had passed in Auckland and was starting to ease across the rest of the North Island. In the South Island, however, cases were continuing to rise. 

Hospitalisations were also still gradually rising, as the average age of those infected slowly increased - now 59. Time spent in hospital was also increasing. 

In the Delta outbreak the hospitalisation rate was 8 per cent, while in Auckland for Omicron it was 0.9 per cent. 

This showed the lesser severity of the variant but also the impact of vaccines, Bloomfield said. 

However at 10 deaths a day, Bloomfield said this was clearly more deadly than flu, with about 500 to 600 a year. 

Bloomfield said he was not present for Cabinet's decision on Monday, but that given current pressures on the health system as much work as possible needed to be done to reduce extra pressure. 

Bloomfield warned of the potential for devastating flu outbreaks and other infectious diseases come winter, along with new variants of Covid. 

Based on international experience New Zealand could expect up to 5000 daily cases for several more weeks and a baseline of about 1000 for months. 

Hospitalisations due to Covid-19 were expected to sit around 200 to 300 a day. 

This all meant "we need to keep our wits about ourselves". Bloomfield said. 

"Covid isn't done with the world yet." 

On today's decision, Ardern has said she wanted the traffic light system to be "no more restrictive than it needs to be, so if there are areas we can pare it back, we will". 

National and Act have both been pushing the Government to go harder with loosening Covid restrictions. 

National last week called on the Government to immediately drop all scanning requirements for businesses and to scrap vaccine passes for all but large indoor events. 

The party also wants to get rid of all vaccine mandates for young people aged under 18, and move to a five-day isolation period. 

Once the border reopens to Australians on April 13, National wants the traffic light system gone for good, and an end to pre-departure testing, along with the eventual phasing out of all vaccine mandates, with health workers to be phased out last. 

Act also wants the traffic light system gone, along with scanning and tracing, and vaccine requirements. 

Experts meanwhile have warned not to relax restrictions too fast. 

A blog post published by Otago University experts Prof Nick Wilson, Dr Jennifer Summers, Prof Michael Baker said while case numbers had likely peaked, caution was needed in relaxing restrictions to avoid further waves, as had been seen in Australia. 

They called for more efforts to increase vaccination levels for children and booster coverage, with just 73 per cent of the eligible population boosted, and just 59 and 60 per cent respectively for Māori and Pasifika. 

They also said mandates should be kept for certain industries interacting with vulnerable people and vaccine passes changed to include a booster dose. 

While two doses and/or prior infection was shown to be effective at reducing transmissibility of Delta, it was less effective with Omicron. 

Mask use should continue in key indoor settings and ventilation improved where possible. 

- Michael Neilson, NZH