COVID-19: Patrick Gower's 'pretty simple' position on COVID measures, calls for country to be opened up

  • 22/03/2022

Patrick Gower has a "pretty simple" position on the current COVID measures: "Open this country the hell up and get a move on".

The Newshub National Correspondent was on AM on Tuesday morning saying Kiwis are no longer scanning QR codes and aren't being asked for vaccine passes.

The Government will on Wednesday unveil decisions Cabinet made on Monday afternoon about the future of the country's COVID-19 response. It's suspected vaccine mandates could be dropped for most professions, vaccine passes likely done away with in some settings and the traffic light system adjusted.

But despite those decisions already being made, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won't share how they will impact Kiwis until Wednesday, saying at her post-Cabinet press conference on Monday that time was needed to update guidance, prepare orders and iron out the final details.

Gower says it's time for the shift. 

"I've got a pretty simple position on this, actually. It's called open the hell up. Open this country the hell up and get a move on. I think if you put that question out in any kind of poll, or walk down the street here in the beautiful city of Lower Hutt, where I'm standing right now, people would agree, it is time to open the hell up, move on and get with the psychology of the people. 

"People aren't scanning in around here anymore. People aren't asking for vaccine passes anymore. They've done their job. Let's celebrate what we've done and get a move on and get on with life in New Zealand. Full stop. That is my position on this. I cannot wait until we move on."

But Gower had one last request of the Government: 

"I do want one more announcement of an announcement. I'm going to miss them."

He has a "pretty simple" position.
He has a "pretty simple" position. Photo credit: AM.

Right-leaning political commentator Trish Sherson, who was appearing alongside Gower on AM, said the Government's tendency to announce when it was going to make announcements was "absolutely nonsensical".

She believes the Government's decision to move on mandates is "poll-driven". Nearly two weeks ago, a television poll came out showing National ahead of Labour for the first time in more than two years. 

"I think the Government is very much in a reactive mode. Some people criticised National last week for coming out and saying, 'Hey, look, lift the mandates, here's what we would do'. But that's the job of the Opposition to push things along."

"It doesn't make sense anymore as you've got more and more of the population who have had Omicron, be they vaccinated or unvaccinated, to have mandates still in place. The question has to be asked the whole way along here, are we managing the risk properly and have we got the balance right between the health response and economic response? 

"I'll tell you what, right now in Auckland and pretty much every major city around New Zealand, the cities are so quiet, and so anything we can do to safely help people get back into offices, get back into restaurants and bars, the better it will be to get our cities back on track."

At her post-Cabinet press conference on Monday, the Prime Minister defended the decision not to announce any COVID changes until Wednesday. She said no one would be impacted by waiting those 48 hours as "the changes aren't immediate". 

Newshub Nation understands the vaccine passes could be dropped by April 13, the same day the border reopens to Australian tourists. 

"It’s not unusual, of course, for Cabinet to make decisions in the meeting and in the room that we are yet to then go back and make sure that we have not created any knock-on effects or consequences; that we’re able to draft the orders and regulation in time to update and change the guidance. 

"I think plenty of you in this room would criticise me if I came down an hour after making a decision and couldn’t answer some of those questions because we hadn’t taken that time."

In the face of questions from media, Ardern said if it was preferred she didn't flag announcements in the future "we can happily do that as well".

Ardern on AM on Monday denied the decision to shift away from the current restrictions has been influenced by Labour's falling popularity. She did signal earlier in the year, before the National-leading poll came out, that mandates may be phased out as New Zealand moved over the peak of Omicron.

That's happening about now according to health experts like Dr Bryan Betty, the medical director of the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners, and epidemiologist Dr Rod Jackson.

Dr Betty on Monday told AM that mandates have fulfilled their purpose, which was primarily to incentivise vaccination and give Kiwis confidence they were working in a safe environment. He thinks it's time to start removing them.

Ministry of Health data from Monday sows 96.3 percent of eligible New Zealanders over 12 have had one dose, 95 percent have had two doses and 72.7 percent have had a booster. 

Dr Jackson said it's about four weeks too early to drop the public health measures as cases remain high - 14,463 cases were recorded on Monday - and hospitals remain under significant pressure. The Ministry of Health reported 1000 hospitalisations on Monday and a further nine deaths.

The Green Party doesn't want the Government to remove the COVID protections until it is clear the peak has passed. It pointed out the relatively low rates of booster uptake among Māori and Pacific peoples and that only a small number of children have had their second dose.

"Instead of discussing what COVID-19 protection measures to remove and when, the Green Party believes Cabinet should be discussing how it can continue to protect those most at-risk," COVID spokesperson Teanau Tuiono said. "Not only to get through the current outbreak, but to prepare for any new variants over winter."

ACT's David Seymour said the Government was making Kiwis wait an "Ardernity" for its decision. 

"Jacinda should treat us like adults and tell us what it is. Instead, our staged managed Prime Minister has decided she cares less about New Zealanders desperately waiting to the hear the decision and more about the podium time. 

"People have lost their jobs over mandates and are excluded from parts of society but none of that seems to matter to Jacinda Ardern."

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