COVID-19: National's five-step plan to get New Zealand out of lockdown

National's plan includes spot checking people who are supposed to be self-isolating.
National's plan includes spot checking people who are supposed to be self-isolating. Photo credit: Getty Images

National is calling on the Government to adopt its five-point plan to get New Zealand out of lockdown and manage the latest COVID-19 outbreak in Auckland.

Its plan includes spot-checks on people who are required to self-isolate and for south Auckland to be prioritised when it comes to vaccines.  

Auckland went into level 3 lockdown at 6am on Sunday while the rest of the country moved to level 2 after two new community cases were announced.

The cases are an older sibling of a Papatoetoe High School student and their mother. It remains unclear as to how they became infected but they are genomically linked to the original Auckland cluster.

It's been revealed one of the new cases visited a gym while their COVID-19 test results were still pending. The visit comes after a case earlier in the week worked at KFC Botany while they were supposed to be self-isolating.

National's COVID-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop and Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti believe their five-point plan would be able to manage such cases and their contacts more effectively. 

Their first step would be to introduce rapid antigen testing, a form of nasal swab that returns results in 15 minutes.

"Rapid antigen testing would allow us to test large numbers of New Zealanders, quickly. Those who test positive would then have their results confirmed by a standard PCR test," says Dr Reti.

He says the rapid testing would work alongside PCR testing as an added layer and that the Government already considers them reliable enough to use as a pre-departure test for arrival into New Zealand.

Nationals second step would be to roll out "high intensity, well-staffed" testing stations across Papatoetoe and all locations of interest.

Bishop says the Government needs to cut down waiting times and make it easier for people to get tested.

"Long queues and wait times will discourage people from getting tested. We need to fix this."

Their third step is to conduct "higher intensity wastewater testing at suburb and sub-suburb levels in Papatoetoe".

Dr Reti says wastewater testing should be improved by ensuring it occurs at a "more granular level" in Papatoetoe rather than just main interceptors and should include a daily test at ports.

Setting aside enough vaccines for all border and port workers then priority vaccinating south Auckland is the fourth step in the plan.

"South Auckland presents an increased risk of transmission due to the density of its population and the number of border workers who reside there," Dr Reti says.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told Newshub Nation on Sunday the Government would be taking a "risk-based approach" protecting border workers and the elderly before other risk areas like south Auckland can be considered. 

While Dr Reti believes vaccine prioritising can be part of a risk-based approach: "We understand the need to prioritise other vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, for vaccination but stopping outbreaks at the source is also a form of protection of these group."

Hipkins added that whether they would be able to prioritise vaccinating south Aucklanders will come down to how much vaccine stock New Zealand gets.

"At this point, we don't have sufficient stocks of vaccines in the country to be able to do that, but as soon as we do, we will be."

Nationals fifth step is to "increase monitoring of people who are required to self-isolate, including spot checks". 

Bishop wants New Zealand to follow the example of Taiwan where managed isolation at home comes with strict protocols such as random phone calls and requests to prove their location through video calls.

"The high trust approach we take to self-isolation in this country comes with risks, as we've seen over the past few days," Bishop says.

"New Zealanders have largely done a great job of following self-isolation advice but it's unlikely we'll ever have 100 percent compliance, and it's extremely frustrating when a small number of people don't follow the rules.

"Monitoring of self-isolators should be ramped up to guarantee compliance. This means regular spot-checks, and if no contact is made within 24 hours then police are involved."

Hipkins dismissed the idea of hunting down those who weren't following the rules, adding that sanctions "increases the potential for people who might have the virus to not come forward and that is not the space we want to be in".

On Friday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said while she was frustrated to hear the KFC worker broke self-isolation rules she wanted to maintain an environment where people felt comfortable to come forward and get tested.

"One of the things we need is an environment where people can feel like even if they've made the wrong choice, even if they've gotten tested later than they should've, they still do what we need them to do."