Coronavirus: Judith Collins urges Govt to adopt National's COVID plan, admits it could result in deaths

Judith Collins says the National Party plan to let Kiwis into the country for Christmas has been "expert-reviewed", but it apparently doesn't put a number on how many could die as a result.

But like driving, Collins says it will include some risk.

"When we drive cars, we understand that there are going to be some people who are injured and occasionally people will lose their lives," she told The AM Show on Wednesday. "It doesn't stop us driving cars."

The Government's experts last week revealed modelling which suggested thousands of Kiwis could die in an outbreak if vaccination rates don't get above 90 percent of those currently eligible (12-plus). 

National's plan will be publicly revealed at 10am, Collins promising it will make Kiwis stuck overseas "extremely happy". 

The revamped MIQ system has revealed the extent of demand for places - nearly 30,000 logging on for the latest lottery, hoping to secure one of just 3800 slots available between now and Christmas. 

"If the Government undertakes this plan, starts now, you'll be able to get home for Christmas," said Collins, refusing to say who the expert reviewers are "because we don't want them obviously being attacked by the Government".

"It's a very large piece of work that our team has been working on. We're so excited about this. We've had it expert-reviewed. If the Government adopts this - and I suggest they just take the whole lot - take it, we're happy to share it, just do it. Our Kiwis will be able to be home for Christmas and you'll be able to travel. So just do it."

Collins wouldn't reveal any of the details, but it's expected to involve some kind of at-home self-isolation for vaccinated people, rather than clogging up MIQ. Early in the pandemic before MIQ facilities were set up, people coming from COVID-19 hotspots were expected to self-isolate - but many didn't follow the rules.

People who have been vaccinated are at much lower risk of contracting the virus, getting sick and passing it on, reducing the risk they'll spark an outbreak compared to the unvaccinated - which was all of us last year. 

But all it takes is one case to break through and another outbreak could happen - at present, just 37 percent of all Kiwis have had both jabs. Singapore - which has fully vaccinated 80 percent of its population - is setting new record case totals almost every single day. 

Judith Collins.
Judith Collins. Photo credit: The AM Show

Asked if people will die should the Government adopt National's policy, Collins said they were already going to die because of the lockdown. 

"We're in six weeks of lockdowns, we have people who can't access their cancer treatments or assessments. We have people who are not going through or having their surgeries - I think around 30,000 New Zealanders have either had their surgeries cancelled or postponed indefinitely. We have a very serious situation. People who need treatment."

While last year's nationwide lockdown did see the number of cancer diagnoses drop, overall mortality in New Zealand dropped compared to previous years - one of the few countries in the world where that happened. A study published in prestigious medical journal The Lancet in March concluded the "impact of COVID-19 on cancer care in New Zealand has been largely mitigated". 

Research in the UK has predicted a small rise in cancer deaths might result thanks to the disruption caused by COVID-19 mitigation efforts, but they have spent much longer under restrictions than New Zealand has. 

As mentioned earlier, Collins compared the risk to driving.

"We cannot stay in this situation forever. I don't want to put any numbers on what's acceptable deaths or anything like this because right at the moment we are living in what is being described overseas - and again in New Zealand -as a hermit kingdom.

"We cannot continue down this path. Not only are small businesses going to the wall, at the moment we have 700-odd suicides a year and even mental health treatments are being put, in some cases, on hold. It is simply not acceptable. People can't take it anymore." 

The suicide rate dropped last year after hitting a record high in 2019. During the nationwide lockdown last year, New Zealand actually reported 20 percent fewer suicides than expected, based on past trends, according to a study published in April.