Coronavirus: Expert calls on politicians to 'stop sniping' over COVID response, says 'there's no bloody election'

A prominent epidemiologist has called on politicians to "stop sniping at each other" over COVID-19 response, saying there's only one true way to beat the latest outbreak - getting everyone vaccinated as soon as possible

If Aucklanders don't, they can expect to stay in level 3 for as long as mystery cases keep showing up, says University of Auckland epidemiologist Rod Jackson. 

"We're staying in level 3," he told The AM Show on Thursday, after Wednesday's figures of 45 new cases with 12 unlinked.

"Auckland's not getting out of level 3. Auckland's gonna be in level 3 until we don't have mystery cases."

Whether that comes through elimination or widespread vaccination remains to be seen. COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, appearing on the show after Dr Jackson, said any decision on a change in levels next week hasn't been made yet - but he wouldn't rule out a move back up to level 4 to stem the outbreak, should the numbers continue to worse over the next few days. 

"You never say never about anything." 

On Wednesday the National Party unveiled its COVID reopening plan, including a much less onerous quarantine system at the border. 

The extreme level of demand for places in MIQ has been laid bare by the new system, with tens of thousands entering the lottery earlier this week for just a few thousand places available before Christmas.

While the Government is soon to start a home isolation trial involving just 150 fully vaccinated Kiwis, once 85 percent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, National wants it to be available to any fully vaccinated Kiwis coming home from medium-risk countries, and for those arriving from low-risk countries to be allowed to skip MIQ altogether. 

On Wednesday in Parliament, Hipkins defended the current system, putting a patsy question to his boss Jacinda Ardern: "To the Prime Minister, which does she think New Zealanders would prefer: a COVID-free Christmas or reopening the borders early and getting COVID for Christmas?"

Finance Minister Grant Robertson also got in on the festive 'fun', if it can be called that, singing: "On the first day of Christmas, National gave to me: COVID." 

National leader Judith Collins said the Government had "taken its eye off the COVID-19 ball in 2021", which Dr Jackson agreed - running with Collins' rugby analogy, saying while there was no doubt New Zealand won the first half, "we took our eye off the ball in the first half of the second". 

"We're now into the last quarter of the game. We can win this, and you win it by vaccination. Politicians have to stop sniping at each other. This is the time when politicians need to put aside [their differences]. There's no bloody election for a couple of years."

After spending much of 2020 in sync with the Government's handling of COVID-19, National has become increasingly critical over the course 2021 - much of it aimed at the slow start to the vaccine rollout and the struggles Kiwis have had getting places in MIQ. 

Dr Jackson wants Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to call a joint press conference with the leaders of "every serious political party" - that is, the ones who back vaccination - and urge Kiwis to get vaccinated, the "only one way out of COVID". He said they could all wear T-shirts reading 'vax a nation' and 'trust the geeks - get a vax'. 

"In terms of the politics, the only politics we want is bipartisan politics. Every political party that is not a joke is 100 percent behind vaccination. I want them to get together, roll up their sleeves and say. 'Let's forget about party politics for the next six months. Let's get everyone vaccinated.'"

Hipkins told The AM Show it was a "lovely and simple" idea that just wouldn't work.  

"That's not going to reach the group of people that we know we are really needing to reach for first doses - they are people who are under the age of 35, they are people who are not watching the six o'clock news, they're not reading the newspaper."

Host Ryan Bridge asked him if he'd get on popular video app TikTok. 

"I'm not sure the TikTok algorithm's gonna pick up a political press conference," Hipkins replied. 

New Zealand has fully vaccinated 37 percent of the total population and 44 percent of those aged 12-plus. Modelling has suggested the herd immunity threshold for the highly infectious Delta variant could be as high as 97 percent.