Coronavirus: Judith Collins calls for vaccine roll-out 'now', or consider closing the borders

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to deepen overseas, the National Party warns we're exposing people to a "totally unacceptable" level of risk at the border. 

Four new cases were announced in managed isolation on Monday, and with the threat of two new strains of the virus looming, Judith Collins is telling the Government to start vaccinating now or consider closing the borders.

She's accusing the Government of playing fast and loose with the new, more infectious strains of COVID-19, and agrees with epidemiologist Michael Baker, who told Newshub on Sunday it's time to consider closing the borders to some countries.

"I think we are being a bit slow in response to these new, more infectious variants. I think now we have to be very proactive again and take decisive action," he said.

"At one extreme, unfortunately, I think we may need to look at suspending travel from countries where this new variant is circulating very vigorously."

One of the new variants continues to rampage through the United Kingdom, where another 563 people have died in the past 24 hours.

"I think Professor Baker has a point, particularly while we don't have our staff in managed isolation vaccinated," Collins said.

Government Duty Minister Peeni Henare said New Zealand's situation is different to other countries since there's currently no community transmission here, but they are taking "nothing for granted".

"We expect to be in a position to start vaccinating frontline workers from April 2021, and the public in the second half of the year," he said in a statement.

"At this stage, based on our current situation, our first priority will be to vaccinate border workers and essential staff who are at the greatest risk of getting COVID-19."

He added New Zealand's Medsafe is working closely with its Australian counterpart, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, on the data both agencies are receiving from pharmaceutical companies about COVID-19 vaccines and any approval decisions made by Australia. 

"Medsafe has streamlined its approval processes to move swiftly, but without rushing or compromising safety in any way. It is critical the public has confidence in the safety of vaccines."

In the UK, more than 50,000 people have tested positive for the thirteenth day in a row, leaving doctors on the front lines overwhelmed. 

"Just the sheer number of people who are coming in who are sick enough that they might die. That there are a significant number of people who die with extreme distress," Dr Simon Tavabie of The Royal London Hospital said.

Coronavirus: Judith Collins calls for vaccine roll-out 'now', or consider closing the borders
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And there's a stark warning of what is to come. Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield's British-counterpart says that in some parts of the country, the NHS is facing the most dangerous situation anyone can remember. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said if the virus continues on the current trajectory, hospitals will be in real difficulties and there will be avoidable deaths. 

Seven mass vaccination centres are being set up, and the British government is aiming to have offered every adult a jab by their autumn.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's first vaccine order isn't due to arrive until at least April, leaving all border and MIQ staff unprotected for the foreseeable future. 

"I would have thought the Government needs to have a plan to fly some in now and get that started right away," Collins said.

Henare said ministers have taken further actions over the summer to strengthen the border and "will not hesitate to introduce more protections as necessary".

"These are on top of the ongoing strengthening of our MIQs, which represent the most robust border protections anywhere in the world. The latest actions include introducing day zero testing for returnees from higher-risk countries and requiring these people to stay in their rooms in managed isolation until they return a negative test," he said.

"We will also be requiring pre-departure testing before returnees from the UK and the US can enter New Zealand starting from this Friday, and are looking closely at other long haul routes."

Of the four new cases announced in New Zealand on Monday, one of them is from the UK, the other three from a group of 190 Russian sailors quarantining in Christchurch.