ACT's Brooke van Velden clarifies comments suggesting 'we completely blew out what the value of a life was' during COVID-19

  • 07/04/2024

ACT deputy leader Brooke van Velden has clarified she supported the former Government's COVID-19 measures at the time but says "valid" questions need to be asked about the wider social ramifications.  

It comes after the Internal Affairs Minister, before the election, suggested at HealthTech Week that when "it came to COVID, we completely blew out what the value of a life was, completely, I've never seen such a high value on life".   

"Someone in the audience had quite bluntly asked me, 'What do you see as the value of life?' And I said, 'Well, there are a range of different ways you can value it based on which Government agency that you're talking to,'" she told TVNZ's Q+A on Sunday when asked about the comments.  

Van Velden added the former Government "made active decisions on how much money they would spend to save each life from COVID".  

"At the time, the Government was spending up large to save people from COVID - which I think was right - but, at the same time, were making an active decision to not value the lives of women who were forced not to have breast cancer screening," she said. "So, there are women out there who will now have breast cancer - when it could've been prevented - because the Government made an active decision that didn't matter as much as COVID."  

Van Velden called it "a very valid question... Is it OK for us to make that trade-off"?  

"As a Government, these are the questions that we have to make every single day with scarce resources," she told Q+A.  

"These are very adult conversations and I can understand they're discomforting to people, but that is the reality of Government."  

NZ Doctor editor Barbara Fountain responded to van Velden's comments at the time by saying it was "far too easy to forget the many unknowns of those early days. Our television screens showed torrid scenes in Italian hospitals of COVID proving deadly to patients and health workers, of a desperate shortage of ventilators, of bodies being stored in refrigerated trucks". 

Van Velden was asked by TVNZ whether she believed more people would've died if the Government didn't prioritise COVID-19 at the time.  

"It's possible that there may have been a few more people," she responded. "It's really, really hard to say because we only have one example, right?"  

The Royal Commission of Inquiry into COVID-19 needed to investigate the wider social contexts of New Zealand's response to the pandemic, she said.