Judith Collins questions Jacinda Ardern's 'short and sharp' COVID-19 lockdown plan as Auckland enters fifth week

National leader Judith Collins is questioning Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's plan for a "short and sharp" lockdown as Auckland enters its fifth week of heavy restrictions. 

Ardern announced on August 17 that New Zealand would enter alert level 4 lockdown after the highly infectious Delta variant of COVID-19 was discovered in the community. 

"We want to be short and sharp rather than light and long. We've seen what happened in Sydney," she said at the time. "We don't want that experience here. If we all comply, it lifts our chances of getting out of this earlier."

But as Auckland enters its fifth week still under alert level 4 restrictions, businesses are getting impatient, and the Opposition is calling for answers. 

"This lockdown will now be the longest ever since COVID hit New Zealand, making a mockery of the Prime Minister's claims at the start that it would be 'short and sharp'," Collins said after Ardern's alert level announcement on Monday. 

"Auckland is in lockdown and New Zealand is in level 2 for two reasons: we have one of the world's slowest vaccine rollouts in the world, and the Government did not prepare or plan for Delta."

Ardern said during her press conference that her "short and sharp" comments referred to putting the entire country into lockdown the same day the first Delta case was found. 

"You would have seen, around the world, people found it interesting that New Zealand would do that, but that's because of us taking Delta seriously and our elimination approach," Ardern said. 

"Of course, what we then determined is that we had cases probably being generated over the course of more than a week, so of course that lent itself to an outbreak that was larger, with a super-spreader event that has required that ongoing action.

"I think people have been through this process long enough to know that short, sharp, go hard and early, has been our response to when we see even one incursion. We move quickly while we ascertain what's happening. I think everyone understands that that's been our approach."

National leader Judith Collins.
National leader Judith Collins. Photo credit: Getty Images

Ardern said the Government is giving as much certainty to Auckland as it can, by making an in-principle decision to shift the city to alert level 3 next week. 

She denied misleading the public with her remarks. 

"I don't believe that's the case when we've made an in principle decision about the next stage. I also think people expect us to act on the information in front of us. I don't think anyone thought after we had a large number of cases come very quickly through after those three days, that they thought we would then lift from where we were."

The Government acted on the advice it was given, Ardern said. 

"The advice to us we've received from the public health team was a date on which they believe will be safe for us to move Auckland into a level 3 environment, so they're already - with all the information we have - making those recommendations to us.

"What we want to do though, is over the course of this week, use this week wisely - do as much as we can to continue to get that surveillance testing up, making sure everyone is doing their bit as they have done to date, and on our side, that really active cluster management as well."

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the "signs are good" for containing the Delta outbreak. 

"The lockdown is working, the testing is at a good level, people are doing what's asked of them, and it's really only a small number of cases that we are investigating very thoroughly just to make sure there is no ongoing community transmission," he said.

"Our view and our advice is that another week in lockdown at alert level 4 in Auckland gives us our best chance to really finish the job off here.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Getty Images

"The important thing is that we find cases. We want to find cases and then we know we can isolate, test and prevent any ongoing spread, and that's absolutely the focus of this next week. If everyone does as the Prime Minister requested, then I've got a high level of confidence we will get around this outbreak."

Ardern said lockdowns are required while New Zealanders get vaccinated. As it stands, 69 percent of the eligible population aged 12 and over have had one dose of Pfizer. 

At current first dose vaccination rates - of nearly or more than 300,000 first doses a week - the Ministry of Health expects to surpass the 80 percent figure of eligible people who had received at least one dose sometime within the next two weeks.

"What we've said is that while we're at this part of our strategy, which of course is focused on elimination to allow us to make sure that we're safely vaccinating our population, that is our absolute focus," Ardern said. 

"What we've said is we will then listen to the experts as we have all the way through and their advice on what the phase that we'll move into thereafter looks like. But for now, the strategy is vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate."