Coronavirus: National wants to move to alert level 1 'now'

National's Amy Adams has called for New Zealand to go into alert level 1 immediately to save jobs.

The Government doesn't plan to reconsider moving out of level 2 restrictions until June 8, but with the country now going a week without finding any new cases of COVID-19, there's growing unease with the economic damage the restrictions are causing. 

There's just a single known case left in the country, with 1481 of the confirmed 1504 cases to date having recovered and 22 dead. But the advice from health officials is to stay at level 2 a bit longer in the hope of wiping it out completely, reducing the risk of a second wave of the disease and having to go back into lockdown.

"We should be looking at level one now," Adams, National's third-ranked MP, told Newshub Nation on Saturday morning.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters agrees with her, saying earlier this week we have been "too cautious for too long now" and we've "got to risk it and get going". 

Adams, National's COVID-19 response spokesperson, said there was "confusion" in the Government's ranks, with Labour - the majority partner in the coalition - siding with health officials, while Peters' party New Zealand First pushes for a full reopening. 

"If you want to go back to jobs, one thing businesses need is clarity and certainty. It's not good enough for the Prime Minister to simply say 'we'll think about it in the next four weeks'. Businesses need to know what the operating environment is. 

"We should go there now and we should get the trans-Tasman bubble working as soon as we safely can."

Australia, which like New Zealand successfully flattened the curve while minimising deaths, is still detecting up to a couple of dozen new cases a day. A few hundred people are still considered infected with the virus. 

Auckland University professor Shaun Hendy told RNZ on Friday there could still be an undetected case or two of COVID-19 out there, as it can spread asymptomatically.

"As we come back together, as we go through these thresholds, get back into social gatherings, there is the possibility that we'll have another spreading event and we'll see more cases."

Amy Adams.
Amy Adams. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

National's immediate answer to help the economy avoid the worst effects of the coming recession was announced on Friday - $10,000 to businesses that hire new staff. Leader Todd Muller said it would help create 50,000 jobs.

"Small business owners who create jobs will be the heroes of this economic crisis, in the way that our nurses, doctors, and all 5 million of us who stayed home were the heroes of the health crisis."

But Adams said while it wouldn't "magic up jobs that weren't there", it would "make a critical difference for a business who's just thinking, 'Gosh - can I afford to take that risk?'"

"If we can take away some of those real costs that they face, it will make a real difference."

The Government said it's open to the idea. Adams said the alternative is to wait until November, by which point unemployment could be "18 to 20-plus percent" like in the US.

"That is totally unacceptable, and we need to be doing absolutely everything in our power as Government not only to save jobs but create jobs... If we can get anywhere near that 50,000 job figure, that's a huge success. We lost 37,000 jobs in New Zealand last month... we've got to turn that around."