National's Judith Collins likens COVID-19 restrictions to 'cult' as Jacinda Ardern promises to 'reflect' on response

Judith Collins has likened the Ministry of Health's COVID-19 rules to a "cult", lashing out at "ridiculous situations" like cars queuing up to enter Auckland during alert level 3.

The National leader made the remarks on Monday after being asked whether she still thinks there should be a COVID-19 border protection agency set up to be separate from the Ministry of Health.

"That's something we proposed during the last campaign. We promoted that then as a COVID response team - something like Civil Defence but set up for this, and bringing in the best of the Ministry of Health and other agencies, to be able to focus on it," she told Magic Talk.

"At the moment, we seem to have this cult that whatever the Ministry of Health says must be right, when we have ridiculous situations like 20-odd-thousand cars being blocked coming into Auckland just over a week-or-so ago."

Police set up 10 checkpoints across Auckland when the city was shifted to alert level 3 while the rest of the country went to level 2. In an update last week, police said of the more than 54,000 vehicles stopped at the border, 822 were turned away.

Collins also took issue with Auckland parents not being able to cross the border and collect their children at boarding school in Hamilton due to the level 3 restrictions.

"We had school kids at boarding school in Cambridge not able to get home on the weekend in Auckland even though we were going back into level 2 on Sunday," Collins said.

"This is the sort of nonsense we've got at the moment and actually, it is right to question what's going on. The plan that we had, which was a COVID response team, is absolutely right."

Auckland shifted to alert level 2 on Sunday after a week-long level 3 lockdown. The city had only just come out of a prior lockdown, sparked by three community cases in the south Auckland suburb of Papatoetoe.

Economists have estimated alert level 3 costs Auckland $45 million per day.

National leader Judith Collins.
National leader Judith Collins. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

"I think everyone wants us to do really well on COVID-19 and you're not going to get better if we simply say a year in as we have now, 'don't worry, it's all fine' when clearly it wasn't all fine," Collins said.

"We've got business owners questioning whether or not they should still be in business after the fourth lockdown they've endured and they really are saying 'what's the point? Every time we start to get going again, here it comes again.'"

Collins over the weekend called for an investigation into the latest outbreak, particularly after a community case of COVID-19, a KFC worker known as Case L, claimed she did not receive clear advice to self-isolate.

"I haven't changed my position on that. I've seen the correspondence that went out," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told The AM Show on Monday.

"What was claimed was whether or not it was received and I hear that, and I said last week that we would go back and see if there's anything that we could do to make sure that, even if there's a lot of information going out, people are really receiving that information.

"We reflect after every outbreak or issue that we encounter. We always go back and look at what the lessons learned might be.

"I think the really important thing here is no one's ever implied that anyone has deliberately done anything wrong here. I think that is still a really important point to keep making.

"I can't account for what someone did or did not receive. But what I do know is the vast majority of people in this particular outbreak involving [Papatoetoe High School], the vast majority did exactly what we needed them to do, so that gives me a bit of comfort that for the most part, people received and understood what was needed."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

The Government has rejected the National party's proposal to launch an investigation. Ardern said New Zealanders have experienced far more freedom during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to other countries.

"No one wants lockdowns; no one wants restrictions at all. I think the thing we're all constantly reminded of, regardless of recent experience, is New Zealand has had some of the lowest numbers of days under restrictions of any country in the world," Ardern said.

"There's no costless response to COVID. What we want to do though, is be as effective as we can so that we don't have that cost to businesses or to people's health.

"Every single country has been using restrictions. We've been using them less than others because of our elimination strategy and because of our strong border controls. That's why we haven't had as much as others."

Ardern said the Government has been trying to avoid long lockdowns by ramping up contact tracing when community cases appear. She said had it not been for "a few unfortunate" rule-breaches, the latest lockdown may have been shorter.

"We are willing to use those short, sharp restrictions. But we do just constantly ask people to just follow the requirements we have when we're in them."