Coronavirus: Alert level 3 'a lot like level 4 but with KFC' - Judith Collins

Judith Collins has criticised the Government's level 3 lockdown announcement, echoing calls for a more Australia-like approach to stamping out the disease while keeping more businesses open. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday revealed what changes would happen under a switch from alert level 4 to level 3, which would allow more businesses to resume operations.

National MP Collins, appearing on The AM Show on Friday, didn't seem impressed.

"It looks a lot like level 4 but with KFC, doesn't it? That's about it really... It doesn't look much good for a lot of businesses, but there will be some who will be saying, 'At least I can do takeaways.'"

Treasury analysis and some economists have said moving out of level 4 too early, and having to go back later on, would be more damaging to the economy in the long-term than staying in lockdown until local transmission of the virus has been stopped - something no other major nation has achieved, but is possible thanks to our geographic isolation. 

"Why don't we celebrate how well New Zealanders have done in the last three weeks," said Labour MP Willie Jackson, appearing on The AM Show with Collins via video.

"I think it's been a  magnificent effort... We're in a good place at the moment. We've got to manage this with a bit of care and listen to the experts." 

Judith Collins and Willie Jackson on The AM Show.
Judith Collins and Willie Jackson on The AM Show. Photo credit: The AM Show

Collins questioned whether elimination of the virus in New Zealand was still the goal, or if the move to level 3 signalled a switch to "containment".

But infectious disease experts consider containment a strategy to achieve elimination. An article published in the New Zealand Medical Journal earlier this month written by high-profile epidemiologist Michael Baker and others said China, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan had shown how tough containment measures could possibly lead to elimination the virus. 

"Success with the elimination strategy is far from certain in New Zealand," they said.

"In the meantime, the country will need to keep accelerating its preparations for a potential shift to the suppression or the mitigation strategy."

Mitigation is accepting the virus is spreading through the community, and attempting to keep the number of concurrent cases low so health services aren't overwhelmed, as they have been in New York City. 

Singapore has had slightly more cases than New Zealand, and one more death. Hong Kong, despite its proximity to mainland China where the virus originated, has had fewer cases and only one death. 

Jackson said the goal is still elimination, despite the potential loosening of restrictions. 

Collins said Australia has shown how COVID-19 cases can be kept to a minimum without hurting the economy as much as our strategy might.

"People need to have a job, and a whole lot of New Zealanders right now don't have jobs or are fearing they won't have one. I'd like to see something better... than just saying 'you can go and get a takeaway'."