Coronavirus: ACT leader David Seymour wants international travel resumed 'as soon as possible'

ACT leader David Seymour has urged the Government to resume international travel "as soon as possible" in a speech in which he praised the Prime Minister's communication but questioned her COVID-19 response. 

The MP for Epsom said Jacinda Ardern has "extraordinary communication talents" and that she used them well throughout the COVID-19 crisis to "repel a common enemy". 

He also praised the Government for listening to the Opposition throughout the lockdown, which saw his pay cut suggestion taken up by ministers and senior officials, and the original ban on hunting during alert level 3 walked back. 

But he said the Government will have to be "much more agile, making decisions led by a wide-ranging debate without the spectre of fear haunting the background", if New Zealand is to successfully recover from COVID-19. 

He said the Government has made no attempt to quantify the costs of things like pulling back healthcare in other areas, increased domestic violence and the economic downfall, compared to the focus on the virus.  

"We shouldn't be paralysed by fear of one thing while ignoring these other dangers, we need aspiration and openness."

To get the country back on track, he said the Government needs to "resume international travel as soon as possible while managing coronavirus", and that it will have to look at partnering more with the private sector. 

"As the most isolated country and one that has pursued an elimination strategy, we must have the world's smartest borders."

The Prime Minister said on Monday she is in discussions with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison about potentially opening up the borders to each other, but she is cautious, and signalled it will not happen any time soon

Seymour said the Government was not quick enough to respond to COVID-19. He said the Government has "done a poor job" and that the nation's response came two months after the "best performers were in full swing", such as Taiwan. 

"We should be asking how Taiwan, 23 million people who are heavily integrated with the Chinese economy, managed 400 cases and six deaths with no lockdown. The simple answer is that they went smart and went early."

But the Prime Minister sees it differently. She said within 25 days of New Zealand's first cases, the Government closed the border to all but returning Kiwis, compared to Germany which took 49 days and Australia 55. 

"Our lockdown was in place on day 31 with just under 200 cases. Our first economic package was in place 18 days after our first case. Most other countries took more than 40 days," she told Parliament. 

"Ours was 6 percent of GDP, bigger than the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, China, Korea and Japan at the time, and unlike others it injected cash into businesses immediately."

The Government has so far spent $10.4 billion subsidising the wages of about 1.6 million Kiwis as part of $23 billion invested in the nation's COVID-19 response. 

Ardern said the Government's lockdown has been a success because "we got ourselves down to no current widespread and undetected community transmission in New Zealand". 

She pointed to modelling released on the eve of the lockdown that suggested New Zealand was on a similar trajectory to the likes of Italy and that cases could have grown to more than 10,000 without the lockdown measures. 

"That would cause countless deaths... Today we have had fewer than 1500 cases and more than 1200 people have recovered."

Seymour said Ardern should not just "point to the worst performing countries on Earth, pat New Zealanders on the head, and say, aren't you lucky you're not them". 

He said that is the "politics of fear and post-justification".