Judith Collins questions timing of Jacinda Ardern's hint at early move into COVID-19 traffic light framework

National leader Judith Collins is questioning the timing of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's strong support for an early move into the new 'traffic light' COVID-19 framework.

The new COVID Protection Framework, or 'traffic light' system announced three weeks ago, was set to come into effect for Auckland once 90 percent of the eligible population was fully vaccinated. 

Under the traffic light system, freedoms will be determined by vaccine certificates. For example, when Auckland enters the 'red' light, hospitality venues can open with up to 100 fully vaccinated people, but businesses that choose not to use certificates must remain contactless. 

For the rest of the country, each district health board (DHB) would have to reach 90 percent. However, in an interview with Newsroom last week, Ardern suggested the rest of New Zealand could move with Auckland.

At her press conference on Monday, Ardern confirmed that the Ministry of Health has advised her to consider moving to the new traffic light system earlier because it "provides greater protection" than the alert levels. 

"We set that high vaccination rate target and that has served us well," Ardern said. "Many DHBs are already hitting that 90 percent first dose, so there is the ability for us to get the best of both worlds - high vaccine rates, but the protection of this new framework."

Collins suspects the reason the Government has held off on moving to the new framework is because the work hadn't been done on vaccine certificates. 

"Strangely, today we have the new advice that actually, the traffic light system is more robust than the alert level system, so we should move to it early. The obvious question is, why didn't we simply move to it right away, when it was announced in October?"

"What the Prime Minister can't say is that New Zealand couldn't have moved to a vaccine certificate system in October, or today, because Labour hasn't done the work needed to get certificates or legislation ready. 

"It seems the DHB target was a weird charade to buy time while vaccine certificates and enabling legislation was cobbled together."

Ardern rejected the suggestion that a move to the new framework was delayed due to vaccine certificates not being ready. She said vaccine certificates will be available to download later this week. 

"We have said that we want high vaccination rates to move into it. What we're doing is essentially just talking to some of those individuals who have helped inform our response this far, around some of our plans to move into that perhaps sooner than some of those targets might have suggested."

When asked what's changed, Ardern said it's the fact that COVID-19 is spreading south. 

"What we also have to factor in, is if we are seeing the beginning of cases outside of Auckland, what gives us the greatest protection in that environment? And it's clear that the Protection Framework does that."

Alert level 2, she explained, allows vaccinated and unvaccinated people to attend an event at a venue with no gathering restrictions. But under the 'orange' traffic light, this will only apply to events using vaccination certificates. 

Collins said the Government has been too slow. 

"Legislation for the traffic light framework has not even been introduced to Parliament to establish the framework, and Parliament will no doubt be expected to rush it into law at some point before the end of the year.

"This is shambolic, incompetent governance by a Government that has never had a backup plan for if, and when, elimination failed."

Collins also criticised Ardern for waiting until Wednesday to announce how regional borders will work over the Christmas period. Ardern said while Cabinet has made a decision, it still needs to be "operationalised". 

"Aucklanders have been in limbo for three months and if the Prime Minister has made decisions on when the border will lift then she should release that information to the public," Collins said. 

"Auckland will supposedly learn if the absurd idea of Government-allocated timeslots to leave Auckland over summer will be adopted, or if the Government has a backup plan.

"This whole mess could largely have been avoided if the Government had got its act together and sorted vaccine certificates before now. It only started the work in July, which is the same month a European Union digital passport went live."