Jacinda Ardern, Greens rip into National's COVID-19 plan as Judith Collins pushes for freedom day

Labour and National's political truce seems to be short-lived, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rubbishing the Opposition's proposed 'freedom day' plans. 

National says it would end lockdowns and reconnect to the world when 85 to 90 percent of the eligible population among all regions and ages are vaccinated, or on December 1 - whichever comes earlier. According to health data, 66.6 percent are currently fully vaccinated. 

National leader Judith Collins asked Ardern in Parliament on Wednesday if she agreed "we need to have a date of 1st of December by which her Government needs to complete the vaccination programme that they promised to do this year". 

Ardern, who is set to reveal the Government's vaccination target on Friday after previously refusing to as per on health and overseas advice, made fun of the fact that National had changed its targets. 

"On 23rd of August the leader of the Opposition said a target of 70 to 75 percent; on 18th of September Chris Bishop said the first target should be 70 to 75 percent and actually all on the same day of the 19th, Shane Reti said 90 to 95, Judith Collins said that they'd give a date by the end of November, and Chris Bishop said 85 to 90," Ardern said. 

"So Mr Speaker, I'm not sure what I would be agreeing with."

Collins accused Ardern in Parliament of "making up numbers", but House Speaker Trevor Mallard ruled it out of order. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

National's proposal to remove all restrictions on December 1 didn't go down well with the Greens either, with COVID-19 spokesperson Julie Anne Genter describing it as irresponsible.

"COVID restrictions should not be lifted until a vaccination rate of 95 percent for Māori, Pasifika and other marginalised communities has been achieved," Genter said. 

"The Green Party has consistently said that the Government needs to follow an elimination strategy at least until vaccination rates are high enough to protect Māori and Pasifika communities, and vaccines are approved and available for our tamariki.

"Setting a deadline after which National would be willing to let COVID spread regardless of whether enough people are vaccinated shows a wilful disregard for the health of our most marginalised communities."

Collins said a vaccination rate of 85 to 90 percent is just one part of what needs to happen to restore freedoms. National would also boost ICU capacity from its current 320 to 340 beds, and rely on rapid antigen testing, booster shots and therapeutic treatments

Genter said boosting ICU capacity by December is not realistic. 

"Leaving aside the fact that this is coming from the party that systematically underfunded the health service while in Government, it is just not possible to build capacity that quickly. Let alone recruit or train new ICU nurses."

Green Party COVID-19 spokesperson Julie Anne Genter.
Green Party COVID-19 spokesperson Julie Anne Genter. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Less than 40 percent of eligible Māori are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, health data shows, and Māori have made up 45 percent of COVID-19 cases over the past fortnight.

Associate Health Minister for Māori Peeni Henare has partly blamed it on "a lack of strong leadership" in some district health boards and wider communities.

"Some of those challenges are around the funding distribution and the speed at which that's been put out into those community providers and those Māori health providers," he said on Tuesday. 

"I've also noticed a lack of strong leadership amongst the community, including the DHBs, with respect to what's required for the vaccine rollout."

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

Collins said the Government has had plenty of time to vaccinate. 

"The Government has had 18 months to plan. We've had the vaccine available in New Zealand in reasonable quantities now for at least 10 weeks since the lockdown came and we suddenly got a lot more available," she told reporters. 

"Everybody needs to get the opportunity to get vaccinated and the Government needs to work with the Māori health providers.

"But the country cannot stay in this situation. We have 85,000 operations, specialist assessments, consultations missed, cancelled in the first six weeks of this lockdown. 

"Let me tell you, Māori and every other New Zealander is currently at risk from a health system that has been put into a surge capacity around ICU, which basically means a whole lot of people are not getting their cancer spotted, are not getting their scans done."

Newshub understands the Government is not leaning toward a specific Māori vaccination target on Friday, but rather targets based on areas or regions.