Coronavirus: National's COVID-19 plan to end lockdowns, restart international travel

The National Party's proposed COVID-19 plan would see New Zealand reconnect to the world when between 85 and 90 percent of Kiwis over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated and a number of other measures are introduced. 

The party has also set a mark for when nationwide lockdowns would stop being used, said tourists who are not vaccinated "would be banned from travelling to New Zealand", and laid out how some travellers won't need to isolate on arrival.

Titled 'Opening Up', National's proposal has three core pillars, the third of which supports a strategy "based on vigorous suppression of COVID-19". This means "dealing with COVID-19 in the community as and when it arises and gearing up the health system to cope with people who fall sick". 

National would aim to keep the number of COVID-19 cases very low, but that wouldn't necessarily mean zero. National says there would likely be some infections but the aim is to rapidly respond and minimise transmission. 

The party says it is presenting a pathway "to avoid nationwide lockdowns and then to allow most fully vaccinated travellers to and from New Zealand to travel much more easily, either without any isolation at all or with seven days at home". 

"The Government has taken its eye off the COVID-19 ball in 2021," leader Judith Collins says. 

"New Zealand started the year in a good position but the slowest vaccine rollout in the  developed world for most of this year and a lack of planning meant we were forced into a  long lockdown in August and September, one that is still ongoing in Auckland.  

"Instead of investing in contact tracing, ICU capacity and purpose-built MIQ, the Government frittered the COVID Response Fund away on art therapy, cameras on fishing boats, and Three  Waters reform."

The party earlier said it had the plan peer-reviewed by experts, but on Wednesday wouldn't publicly say who they are as they're in "prominent positions" and don't want to be named. 


The first pillar of the plan lays out 10 steps the party's COVID-19 Response spokesperson, Chris Bishop, says need to be taken "to respond to COVID-19 and set ourselves up to begin to reconnect with the world". 

  1. Supercharge the vaccine rollout 
  2. Order vaccine boosters 
  3. Upgrade our contact tracing capability 
  4. Roll out saliva testing at the border and in the community 
  5. Roll out rapid tests for essential workers and in the community 
  6. Create a dedicated agency, Te Korowai Kōkiri, to manage our COVID-19 response based in Manukau not Wellington 
  7. Build purpose-built quarantine 
  8. Launch a digital app for vaccination authentication 
  9. Invest in next-generation COVID treatments 
  10. Prepare our hospitals and expand ICU capacity 

The plan goes into detail about what each of these steps include. For example, to supercharge the vaccine rollout, the party would set up vaccination centres at universities and polytechnics and consider cash or voucher incentives. A "roving team of vaccinators" would also vaccinate people in MIQ while the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education would be tasked with creating a plan to vaccinate at secondary schools before the end of the year.

Planning would also begin on how to vaccinate those aged between five and 11 so this could start immediately if MedSafe gave it approval. 

"These 10 steps are important measures New Zealand needs to take to evolve our response away from lockdowns and help us open up to the world," Bishop says.

"If we implement these steps, we have options for our future. Kiwis can then look to reunite with family, travel overseas for business and pleasure and we can welcome tourists and students for international education.

"Once we reopen to the world, the future is in the hands of New Zealanders."

In announcing the plan on Wednesday, Collins signalled support for businesses barring entry to people who are not vaccinated, She said every business has a right to decide who goes onto their premise. But there would need to be a "mechanism" for people to show they have been vaccinated.

The party would be comfortable with Air New Zealand or supermarkets barring the unvaccinated.

"It's their choice," she said.

Judith Collins at Wednesday's announcement.
Judith Collins at Wednesday's announcement. Photo credit: Newshub.


The second pillar would see New Zealand pursue elimination "without nationwide lockdowns".

National has set a milestone of getting 70 to 75 percent of the 12+ population being fully vaccinated as soon as possible. As of Tuesday, 44 percent of those currently eligible are fully vaccinated, with 77 percent having had their first dose. 

The party's plan says that modelling shows that once "we get to that level", and including the response measures in pillar one, "nationwide lockdowns are no longer needed". 

"By itself, reaching this milestone as quickly as possible will have a demonstrably positive impact on New Zealand," the plan says. 


The final pillar reflects National's proposed "pathway to reconnect New Zealand to the world".

This would see a shift from elimination, which it describes as "the right strategy with low levels of vaccination" to "vigorous suppression". 

It sets a mark of 85 to 90 percent of the currently eligible population being fully vaccinated for this to happen "although we want to get as high a vaccination rate as possible". 

"Vaccination coverage in the community of at least 85 percent plus community response measures (pillar one) means that COVID can be dealt with adequately and efficiently by our public health system," the plan says. 

Bishop says having above 85 percent of the population fully vaccinated "would give us one of the world's highest vaccination rates".

He said it was possible to get to 85 percent by Christmas if the rollout was supercharged and the proposed suite of measures were introduced.

The pivot in strategies would also need each DHB area to have at least 80 percent of its 12+ population fully vaccinated and for each ten-year age band to have at least 70 percent of its eligible population fully vaccinated. 

Modelling by Te Pūnaha Matatini released last week showed that at 85 percent 12+ vaccination coverage and with a central level of vaccine effectiveness, 4314 people would die a year. With a high level of vaccine effectiveness, it would be 191. That would also require other measures, like masking, remaining in place. 

Bishop said this modelling has been challenged by other modellers and no single model takes into account every variable and every measure. 

Chris Bishop.
Chris Bishop. Photo credit: Getty Images.

A "traffic light system" would be used to help reconnect, priortising fully vaccinated travellers while non-citizens and non-permanent residents who are not vaccinated "would be banned from travelling to New Zealand". 

The low-risk or green pathway is for travel from places where there is "no or little cases of COVID-19 and where vaccination rates are above 80 percent". 

"Vaccinated travellers from these jurisdictions would be able to come to New Zealand with a  pre-departure test and a rapid and saliva test on arrival at the port of entry," Bishop says. 

"Assuming all tests are negative they would be free to enter New Zealand without any isolation. 

"In the first instance we expect this to apply to travellers to and from Queensland, Western  Australia, the ACT, the Cook Islands and possibly Taiwan."

Travellers would need to have had an "approved vaccine" decided by the government based on Medsafe advice. National anticipates Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Janssen would be approved for this.

The medium-risk or orange pathway is for travel from places where COVID-19 is "spreading but under control and where vaccination rates are above 50 percent". The proposed Te Korowai Kōkiri agency would make judgements over which countries fell into this category. 

"Vaccinated travellers from these jurisdictions would be able to come to New Zealand with a  pre-departure test and a rapid and saliva test on arrival at the port of entry," Bishop says.  

"They would then be required to spend seven days in home isolation and encouraged to take  rapid tests which would be provided for free upon arrival. Enforcement would be via spot  checks, and the possible use of digital monitoring apps like Singapore’s ‘Homer’ app."

This is likely to initially apply to New South Wales, Victoria, Singapore, the US, the UK and many European countries. 

"People who test positive either at ports of entry or in the community would either be required  to isolate at home or in purpose-built quarantine, with assessments made by public health  teams."

The high-risk or red travel pathway is for all other countries where COVID-19 is spreading is not under control. 

At all levels, Kiwis who are not vaccinated would have to do two weeks in MIQ.

Erica Stanford.
Erica Stanford. Photo credit: Newshub.

Growing the workforce

National's Immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford says the party would instruct officials to urgently reopen the frozen Skilled Migrant Category visa expressions of interest pool. The party's associate Health spokesperson Simon Watts says 3000 doctors and nurses would be selected from pool and be processed urgently. 

"We would also prioritise and fast-track resident applications for critical healthcare workers, setting aside dedicated MIQ spaces if required," Watts said.

"National would offer conditional residence class visas upon arrival to specialist, experienced nurses who have the qualifications and experience needed to immediately start working in New Zealand.

"We would also fast-track the building of new hospital wards to increase bed capacity. In Auckland, there are business cases for projects at Waitakere Hospital that could be progressed immediately."

Stanford said National would also create a pathway to residence for migrants who have "stuck with us through the COVID-19 pandemic". It would create a fast-tracked, streamlined process for residence applications to clear the backlog. Conditional residence would be offered on arrival to highly-sought skilled workers. 

"With the world competing for global talent to help their fight against COVID-19 and support their economic recovery, we need to make sure we don’t lose our critical workers to other countries, while at the same time focus on attracting the best talent from overseas," she said.

"If we want the best, we need to be the best. Offering a clear pathway to permanent residency will make sure New Zealand remains an attractive destination for skilled migrants to come and work at time when we need them more than ever."

A ring-fenced COVID-19 treatment fund would also be established from the COVID-19 Response Fund and Pharmac would be tasked with negotiating purchase agreements with manufacturers of treatments.

National's full plan can be found here.