Coronavirus: David Seymour says Govt 'cannot prevent all deaths', says money spent on COVID can't be spent preventing deaths from other causes

David Seymour the Government needs to realise it "cannot prevent all deaths" as it begins the process of reopening the country following the vaccination rollout. 

But, like every other MP or minister that's been asked, the ACT leader isn't willing to put a figure on how many COVID-19 deaths would be acceptable as a tradeoff for getting life, travel and the economy back to some kind of normality. 

Modelling has suggested vaccination coverage of less than 80 percent of the eligible population - everyone aged 12-plus - would risk thousands of deaths a year. One estimate from the experts has been that Delta is so infectious, 97 percent coverage would be needed to achieve herd immunity. 

Appearing on Newshub Nation on Saturday alongside National MP Chris Bishop, Seymour was asked how many he'd accept. 

"Well, 30,000 people die in New Zealand every year," he told host Tova O'Brien. 

"The truth is that we cannot prevent all deaths. The important question here is how much more are we prepared to spend to prevent a COVID death than deaths from car crashes, deaths from cancer? Because at the moment, the money we're spending on COVID, we can't spend on preventing those other kinds of deaths."

According to the World Health Organization, 10,508 Kiwis died of cancer in 2020. The road toll was 320. Normally each year about 500 Kiwis die as a result of influenza, despite an annual vaccine being available, but last year it was basically wiped out, thanks to the lockdown

Bishop said he'd like to see 85 percent coverage before opening up.

At that level of vaccination coverage, potentially hundreds of Kiwis would die of COVID annually - 80 percent vaccinated Denmark is expecting around 1000 a year, and they have a similar population to ours. That would be an annual toll twice as high as the flu - and about three times as many COVID deaths every month as New Zealand has had in the entire pandemic to date. 

"Well, the question is, are we going to borrow $140 billion and put that on to future generations?" said Seymour. "Are we going to keep printing money and inflate home ownership beyond the reach of a future generation? 

"Are we going to have people displaced from hospital because we don't have the capacity and the resources to afford new cancer drugs? You've got to ask all those questions at the same time."

No stronger incentive than 'not dying'

Elsewhere in the interview, Bishop said he would back hospitality businesses requiring patrons to have proof they're vaccinated before letting them in - but wouldn't want it to be a legal requirement. 

"I don't think the Government should do that. I think that would be inimical to free choice for New Zealanders. But I think what you will find is there will be concert promoters who set that as a rule and I would support them doing so. There will be pubs who say, actually, you can't come unless you're double-vaccinated. 

"And I would support pubs' right to do that, because they'll be looking after the welfare of the facility staff, but also the people who choose to drink or socialise. I think you will find that that's what's happening around the world. It's going to come to New Zealand."

Seymour said there were even stronger arguments in favour of getting vaccinated than that. 

"You're less likely to go to hospital. You're less likely to end up on a ventilator, and you're less likely to die if you're infected with COVID-19. No other amount of missing out on Shihad concerts is going to be a stronger incentive than not dying. And that is the reason people should get vaccinated."

Bishop was also asked if David Seymour's publicising of a vaccination code intended to boost Māori take-up was racist.

"Well, it's not something that I would have done. I think it's imperative we get Māori  vaccination rates up," he said.

Seymour defended his move, which was widely condemned by prominent Māori leaders, including John Tamihere. The code was issued by his Waipareira Trust in an effort to boost Māori vaccination rates, because he realised the vast majority of the people Waipareira had been vaccinating were Pākehā. 

"Grouping people by their ethnicity is a) ineffective and b) divisive, and I'm very proud to stand against it," said Seymour.

"I think that we should be targeting our aid to make sure that they get vaccinated," said Bishop, disagreeing with Seymour. "That's just a simple matter of ethics and fairness for New Zealanders and actually for all of New Zealand."

Sanctions on beneficiaries? 

One group who might be threatened with a stick rather than a carrot however are beneficiaries. In the past, National has threatened to sanction beneficiaires who don't vaccinate their kids. 

Bishop said it was not the current policy of the National Party - partly because children under 12 aren't yet eligible for the vaccine - but wouldn't rule it out in future.

"I think it's something that we'll consider, as and when the vaccine becomes available for kids."

Seymour said ACT didn't back the idea. 

"When it comes to someone receiving a benefit, everyone should get vaccinated regardless of how you get your income… Would I introduce that as a sanction in this instance?  Probably not."