Judith Collins probes Jacinda Ardern on when 'use of lockdowns', 'gathering size limits' won't be required

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will "not put a number" on when use of COVID-19 restrictions won't be required in New Zealand. 

National leader Judith Collins asked Ardern in Parliament on Tuesday if "New Zealand will be in a position to reduce the use of lockdowns and gathering size limits" as the level of Pfizer vaccinations increases. 

"I think it's everyone's goal to reduce the need for lockdowns. They're incredibly disruptive, they're incredibly hard on people, they're very hard on businesses - so that is everyone's goal," Ardern said. 

"Where our experts have really cautioned is just putting a single number on it, and I can see why, when you look at some countries which many members in this House hold up as being beacons of vaccination programmes. 

"Most of them still have restrictions in place in some form and many of them sit somewhere between 70 to 80 percent vaccination rates. 

"So yes, we do want to see an end to those, but we haven't put a number on it. We want to encourage everyone to be vaccinated as soon as possible."

New South Wales, the Australian state registering more than 1000 COVID-19 cases a day, is preparing to reduce restrictions in October regardless of the 1151 cases currently in hospital and 139 deaths since June. 

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said last week life would feel "very much more normal" by mid-October when the state is expected to achieve its 70 percent vaccination milestone, which would allow freedoms for vaccinated residents in some areas. 

The UK removed all limits on mixing and allowed venues like nightclubs and sports stadiums to open at full capacity starting on July 19, a day often referred to as "freedom day". 

Face masks are no longer required apart from in a few specific locations, such as airports and hospitals, and fully vaccinated people don't need to quarantine after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive. 

But the freedoms come at a high cost. The UK is still averaging around 90 deaths a day from COVID-19, with about 64 percent of the entire population fully vaccinated with two doses of vaccine. 

New Zealand, by comparison, has fully vaccinated 27 percent of the population, with just over half having received at least one dose. 

Collins asked Ardern if the current lockdown would have been necessary if the Government had managed to secure vaccines from Pfizer earlier, with New Zealand one of the last in the OECD to experience its peak. 

"No, I absolutely disagree with that sentence, for two reasons," Ardern said. 

"First of all, countries that started their vaccination programmes in earnest in February and even peaked around April or May in some cases still have restrictions in place - they still have gathering limits in place, they still have things that are constraining their everyday lives, and in those places where they don't have that, they have record hospitalisations, so I think it's an overly simplistic analysis. 

"The second issue I would point out to the member, is the only thing that has constrained our vaccine rollout has been supply. 

"We have had in place an order in place with Pfizer that covers our whole population. Pfizer has determined globally who receives their supply and when. 

"So regardless, we got allocations for quarter one, two, three and four, and as with many countries, the bulk of ours are coming in quarter four, which is why we always designed a vaccine programme that factored that in."

Ardern confirmed the Government is finalising a deal with "multiple countries" to get additional doses of Pfizer into New Zealand this month to keep up with high demand, before the bulk of supply arrives in October.