National would let COVID-19 cases travel New Zealand once 85 pct of population is vaccinated

Internal borders would be lifted once 85 percent of the eligible population is vaccinated, even if some regions lag behind, if National was in charge. 

"Yes," National's COVID-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop said on Thursday, when asked if National would let coronavirus cases visit regions with low vaccination rates, as long as 85 percent of the total population is jabbed.

"No one wants an outbreak of COVID anywhere in the country, but the reality is, we have COVID in Auckland right now, and with the proper deployment of public health tools like rapid antigen testing and much greater use of surveillance testing like saliva testing, for example, we can manage and deal with COVID in our communities," Bishop said. 

"[That's] even in scenarios in which there are small pockets of the community that have low vaccination rates, although obviously, the first preference is for everyone to get vaccinated and get those rates as high as possible."

If National had its way, lockdowns would no longer be used to curb COVID-19 outbreaks when 70-75 percent of the eligible population is vaccinated. With 77 percent of the eligible population fully vaccinated, we'd already be there.

National would then drop COVID-19 restrictions once 85 percent of the eligible population is vaccinated, or on December 1 - whichever comes first. It would essentially be 'freedom day' for Kiwis, the likes of which has been seen in the UK and Australia. 

Auckland is almost there, with 82 percent of the eligible population fully jabbed. But Northland (at 66 percent) and Tairawhiti (at 65 percent) would both be vulnerable to outbreaks. 

Northland and Tairawhiti both have high Māori populations, and only 54 percent of eligible Māori are fully vaccinated, compared to 77 percent of the entire population. 

National would also ditch vaccine certificates once 90 percent of the eligible population has been vaccinated, to end what leader Judith Collins describes as "a sure way to divide our country". 

"Once the target is achieved, National supports the existing rights of all private businesses to choose who they do business with. Some businesses will choose to require proof of vaccination, others will not," Collins said. 

"Proof of vaccination should be available to all vaccinated New Zealanders so they can engage with private businesses who require it and so they can travel overseas. It should not be a long-term tool for the Government to separate New Zealanders."

Collins says the Government should rely on rapid antigen testing to identify COVID-19 cases, and approved medicines like molnupiravir to treat the virus. 

The Government has a different approach. A new COVID-19 Protection Framework, or 'traffic light' system, was announced last month to replace the alert levels. 

It comes into force once 90 percent of the eligible population is vaccinated across each District Health Board. But since Auckland has been in lockdown for months and is close to reaching the target with 82 percent of the eligible population fully vaccinated, it could enter the traffic light framework sooner.

Once the traffic light framework comes into force, what freedoms people have 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 vaccine certificates must remain contactless. 

It's unclear if regions that reach 90 percent will be held back from entering the traffic light system by other regions that haven't reached it yet. 

The Government isn't ruling out allocated times for Aucklanders to leave the city over the Christmas period - a controversial idea floated by COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins.