Judith Collins would seek public feedback on COVID-19 lockdown levels if elected Prime Minister

The Government would seek public feedback on the COVID-19 alert level system under an administration run by Judith Collins, the Opposition leader says. 

Collins said on Monday that, as Prime Minister, she would convene a public health summit to review the lockdown levels set down by the current Government and bring Kiwis into a conversation about avoiding future lockdowns. 

"We need to work out how our economy can flourish when it's clear COVID-19 will be with us for some time," Collins said. "It is clear that the levels system needs to be reviewed in light of our experience, with a wide range of perspectives in the room."

It comes ahead of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's decision on whether to lift or extend the alert level 3 lockdown restrictions Auckland has been under for almost two weeks after COVID-19 was discovered in the community. 

It's the second time Auckland has been put under alert level 3 and it's coming at an enormous cost, with ASB Bank's economics team reporting that the lockdown measures will cost the economy about $440 million per week. 

Collins supports the Government's elimination strategy but has been highly critical of testing failures, after Newshub revealed that the week before Auckland's outbreak more than 60 percent of all border-facing workers in the city had never been tested, falling well-short of its testing strategy.   

The Government has since made testing of border-facing workers mandatory and has ramped up security at managed isolation facilities, deploying 500 additional Defence Force personnel and trialling new contact tracing technology. 

But that's not the only criticism the Government is facing. The fact that butchers and greengrocers have to stop customer-facing services under alert level 3 while supermarkets and dairies can continue has been slammed by the Opposition who want the rules reviewed. 

Collins thinks it's time to ask the public what they think. 

"While we're committed to the elimination approach, the summit's reviews of the levels will give us the best chance of recovering the jobs lost and preventing further loss," Collins said. 

"If there are future threats as a country, we need certainty and transparency over what the process is if future outbreaks occur. We need to balance the social and economic costs, while ensuring the best possible health response."

She said the public health summit would bring all aspects of the community together, from public health specialists, to primary care teams, iwi leadership, Business New Zealand, manufacturing and the unions. 

"What's clear is that COVID-19 is going to be with us for some time. We need to find the best ways of ensuring that we continue to eliminate this disease," Collins said. 

National released its border policy last week proposing a New Zealand Border Protection Agency that would oversee the COVID-19 response, but Health Minister Chris Hipkins dismissed it as unnecessary bureaucracy.  

ACT leader David Seymour is equally dissatisfied with the current alert level system and wants the Government to look into alternatives to lockdowns. 

"The Government's strategy of locking down the country while it fumbles at the border, and fails to test, trace and isolate adequately, is creating huge uncertainty for households and businesses," he said on Monday. 

"If the Auckland lockdown is extended further this afternoon, it will be a fundamental Government failure and another kick in the guts for businesses."

Seymour has called on New Zealanders to learn to live with COVID-19 because the country cannot afford a rolling maul of lockdowns. 

"It's simply unaffordable to have a rolling maul of lockdowns and the uncertainty and other health impacts that brings. I don't think that people are going to accept having a lockdown as the only tool to deal with an outbreak," he said earlier this month. 

"I think we're going to have to live with it."

Seymour said he would not recommend New Zealand follow in the footsteps of Sweden, which has embraced a 'herd immunity' approach to overcoming the coronavirus. More than 5000 Swedes have perished from the virus. 

He said New Zealand should follow Taiwan by embracing smart borders. 

But Collins is not keen on the idea of accepting COVID-19 because she does not think Kiwis would buy into it. She said there is no need to accept it as the new normal if there is confidence in security at the border to keep the virus out.