COVID-19 restrictions: National leader Christopher Luxon wants to see 'light at the end of the tunnel'

National leader Christopher Luxon says he wants to see "light at the end of the tunnel" with the Government's COVID-19 restrictions. 

Speaking in Christchurch on Friday, Luxon said while the actions of the Parliament protesters demonstrating against COVID-19 restrictions were unacceptable, there was still legitimate "frustration" among Kiwis. 

"What I've tried to allude to over the last few weeks is that the protest was unacceptable and not something any of us supported as parliamentarians for the reasons we've well traversed," Luxon told reporters. 

"But across the country, there are people that are law-abiding, that have been fully compliant, that have gone off and got triple-vaccinated, and they are frustrated because they can't go see the grandkids in Perth, they can't get into the country to see their dying mother, they don't know when they can get their business back up and running again."

Kiwis can now return to New Zealand from anywhere in the world without the need to spend time in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) or self-isolate at home, because there is just as much risk of catching it here with Omicron sweeping across the country.

More than 22,000 cases were registered in the community on Friday compared to just eight at the border. 

The Government is yet to confirm, however, if the tentative July date set for when tourists can enter will be brought forward. It couldn't come soon enough for struggling tourism businesses after two years of relying on the domestic market. 

Luxon said businesses he'd spoken to were frustrated about being under the current 'red' traffic light setting, because gatherings are capped at 100 people and hospitality venues must have their guests seated and separated. 

"There is immense frustration and all we're asking for is, 'Hey Government, listen, can you give us some clarity as we go through this phase and go through the peak of Omicron and come out the other side?'

"It's so if you're a tourist business here in Christchurch, I know when I'll be able to see visitors and tourists, when I'll start to advertise my business, when I'll start to hire staff again, and how to manage cash flow. 

"When is the light at the end of the tunnel?"

Luxon aired similar frustrations in a speech last month titled 'A Divided Society', in which he criticised the Government's approach to COVID-19, "which relies far too heavily on controlling all aspects of everyday life, rather than using tools like rapid antigen tests to manage risk and give Kiwis more personal responsibility". 

The Opposition leader has been urging the Government to provide a date for when its vaccine mandates will end.

According to research from the United States in January, the odds of contracting Omicron after receiving three doses drops by 67 percent - two-thirds - and for Delta the risk declines by 93 percent.

Medical experts have described it as a "mild-to-moderate" illness for those who are vaccinated. The problem is that Omicron is in a pandemic state, with so many infections all at once. But Luxon says Omicron is a "very different risk".

"The vaccination doesn't stop the contagion of Omicron. It gives you very good protection so you don't end up getting sick and going to hospital which is why we want everyone to get boosted and vaccinated and all that good stuff, but ultimately, vaccine passes and vaccine mandates become less relevant in that environment.

"You start to think, well actually, I think we can get our kids back playing sports again, I think we actually can get hospitality up and running again because the risk isn't sitting there, and I don't think we need to have mandates for border workers. 

"So, progressively start working your way through the triggers and criteria through which you remove them."

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said earlier this week unvaccinated children can participate in school-organised activity, including "a school sports team that is competing against another sports team that's not a school sports team". 

Hipkins said: "We didn't anticipate that the rules were going to be interpreted as narrowly as they have been, and so we've seen reports, for example, of schools stopping sporting things bang on 3 o'clock when the school bell rang, when there was actually no harm whatsoever in exactly the same people doing exactly the same activity beyond 3 o'clock."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has signalled the Government's intention to roll back vaccine mandates and certificates when Omicron has peaked in what could be a few weeks. 

"We've spoken to the timelines we believe that we'll need to have things like vaccine mandates and passes. We've talked about how once we come off the peak and we've seen that our hospitals and our health system is being able to cope, we will be able to move on from there," she told Newshub Nation last Saturday

"What you're asking me to do is predict precisely where New Zealand will pick a peak and decline."

Ardern expressed similar sentiment in her speech to Parliament on Thursday in response to the violent standoff anti-mandate protesters had with police on Wednesday that resulted in more than 100 arrests and eight officers needing hospital treatment. 

"Where we are in the pandemic right now feels hard because it is, but things will change. Our people are coming home. Soon, tourists will return. Vaccine passes, mandates, restrictions - they will all change. There is reason to feel hopeful."