The three reasons National opposed COVID-19 traffic light law

The National Party voted against the COVID-19 traffic light law for three reasons: no date is given for when vaccine passes will end, the "restrictive" border and the ability to take over testing facilities. 

The latest amendments and extension to the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 allows the Government to implement its new COVID Protection Framework, or 'traffic light' system, which has permanently replaced the alert levels. 

Freedoms are now determined by vaccination status and gathering limits depending on which level of the traffic light system a region is at. Auckland's border drops on December 15 but the international border remains closed until a phased reopening in 2022

National's COVID-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop said in Parliament his party opposed the legislation, though like all the Labour Party's laws since the election, it doesn't need the support of other parties due to its huge majority. 

"We will be opposing this for three major reasons. The first is in relation to mandate and vaccine certificates," Bishop said.

"One thing that has become very clear from the last couple of weeks is that there is real unease in quite some segments of our community around the division created by the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. 

"We don't have mandatory vaccination in New Zealand, for the general population - we have it in some circumstances for people doing particular jobs - and I've never seen the Government, to be fair to them, put forward the proposition that we should mandate vaccination. 

"Vaccination is a choice; that would run into extraordinary New Zealand Bill of Rights Act problems, let alone the ethics and the morality of doing that, although I note that some countries are actually looking at that."

National's COVID-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop.
National's COVID-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

But Bishop said the new traffic light system, "which gives extraordinary freedoms to those vaccinated, but has the converse effect of creating quite some restrictions for those who are unvaccinated", is creating "some real issues in terms of division".

With 88 percent of the eligible population fully vaccinated, Bishop said there should be a date for when vaccine passes will no longer be needed. 

"One question that I think is going to become increasingly important to answer in the coming weeks and months as our vaccination rate goes to 90 percent double dose in many regions, and countrywide and beyond, is at what point do the mandates and the vaccine certificates fall away?"

The legislation has a sunset clause, meaning it will end in mid-2023. But no date has been given for when vaccine passes will end. The Government has, however, confirmed that the vaccine pass or negative test result requirement to leave Auckland will end on January 17

The international border restrictions is another reason National opposed the traffic light law. 

"It's the National's Party's view that the time has come to dismantle the very complicated regime to do with managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) that the Act allows," Bishop said. 

"We have a situation where fully vaccinated travellers are coming into New Zealand, having passed the pre-departure test... They are going into MIQ facilities even though they don't have COVID; whereas people with COVID who test positive in the community as part of this outbreak isolate at home."

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins.
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

The Government announced that vaccinated Kiwis arriving from Australia will be able to skip MIQ from January 16 and instead self-isolate for seven days. From February 13, it extends to Kiwis travelling from any country, and then to vaccinated non-Kiwis from April 30.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has deemed overseas arrivals a "significant risk", pointing to the emergence of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19. 

Though the latest Ministry of Health data shows just one new case of COVID-19 in MIQ compared to 90 new cases in the community. Experts have said MIQ is better served isolating community cases as opposed to vaccinated travellers who test negative

The final reason National opposed the traffic light law is because the Government has given itself the power to take over COVID-19 testing labs, which one testing business has described as "draconian" and "simply not required". 

"It is not a morally just provision," Bishop said. 

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said in Parliament the "sweeping nature of the powers" won't last forever. 

"We are currently proposing that the Act be continued until the middle of next year, by which point we will either have to pass another motion to continue to extend it or again it will expire.

"The global pandemic has created huge disruption around the world and here in New Zealand. I think there are many people, myself included, who look forward to the day when the global pandemic is over and life can get back to normal and we can all get back to doing the things that we all love and enjoy."