Coronavirus: David Parker plays down chance of Xmas travel slots, but says 'we can't just let it rip'

Senior Government minister David Parker says he's "on the side of Aucklanders being able to leave for their summer holidays" and is sure they'll "get a good Christmas", with or without a hard border the Opposition has dubbed a "dystopian future plan" and "raving mad". 

There's confusion over how easily Aucklanders will be able to leave the city in December, with the Government looking for ways to stop unvaccinated people from potentially spreading COVID-19 into parts of the country without it. Unvaccinated people are 10 times more likely to be infected with the disease than vaccinated, and 20 times more likely to pass it on to a vaccinated person, studies have shown

Earlier this week Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Aucklanders would need to be vaccinated to visit friends and family elsewhere, but just how that would be enforced hadn't been worked out, since New Zealand - unlike other countries such as the US and Australia - doesn't have much experience enforcing internal borders. 

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins on Wednesday said it was possible Aucklanders might have to apply for time slots to leave the city, to avoid massive queues on the motorways as travellers' vaccine statuses were checked. 

He told RNZ it was just one option being looked at, but the mere suggestion caused outrage - many online suggesting it was more like something out of the Cold War than a modern-day democracy. The Police Association - whose members would be tasked with enforcing it - said it was "a theory waiting to turn into a shambles", while National leader Judith Collins called it "stark raving mad". 

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson stepped in on Wednesday, saying allocated travel times "wouldn't be very practical, but we do have to find a way through in the event that we still have a boundary there".

"Whether or not you have to depends on whether you have a border," Parker added on Friday morning, appearing alongside National MP Simon Bridges on The AM Show. 

"Obviously the key to that is vaccinations - we're 10th highest in the OECD now, above Australia, US, Germany, UK, so our vaccination's amongst the highest in the world now. We'll know in the next few weeks whether we need a border. 

"If we do still have a border around Auckland, then you have to decide what to do in respect of unvaccinated people. Now there's some practicalities to that that we need to work through. I think most people understand that we can't just let it rip. But we have to have a practical solution rather than large queues of traffic."

As Parker said vaccinations are key, and not just for controlling local spread of the virus - they've also been baked into the Government's plans for reopening the country, with regions requiring 90 percent double-dose coverage of those eligible. Auckland is ahead, in this regard - but it's also the epicentre of the outbreak, with the vast majority of new cases. 

Bridges said the Government "shouldn't play Santa" and set a date so Aucklanders can plan ahead.

"You shouldn't lay this on us as a surprise at the start of December. People need to know what's going on now so they can plan for Christmas and know what's happening, rather than open their presents a week or two or three before. That's totally insufficient and not good enough for New Zealanders."

He suggested the public back-and-forth over border vaccination checks showed there was "significant division" in the Labour Party. 

"We haven't taken those decisions," said Parker, "but Chris Hipkins made one suggestion and maybe that wasn't as practical as he would have hoped. Grant Robertson responded saying let's hope we can do better than that. We're working these issues through."

Parker suggested some regions might be able to open up to Aucklanders even if they don't reach the 90 percent target.

"The decision as to what will be the exact trigger on removing the border is yet to be taken. Simon might say that's irresponsible, but in my view what would be irresponsible is to take those decisions earlier than you have to before you've got real data on vaccinations... 

"The Gisborne region's at 65 percent, but they are racing up relative to where they were, so it's a bit early to tell where they're going to get to. If everyone's on the border of 90 percent, the decision is a lot easier. If there are some areas that are way behind... it's more complicated. But what's clear is Aucklanders will be able to travel for Christmas."

Whether that includes the unvaccinated depends on enough Kiwis getting jabbed between now and December, it would seem.