“Omicron is, to quote the PM, a ‘whole new virus,’ and we can’t be caught out with another March 2020 response, so Cabinet needs to confront reality with new goals and strategies today,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.
“In simple terms, very few interventions to slow, let alone stop, the spread of Omicron will be worth it. Instead, the strategy will have to change to protecting vulnerable people from going to an under resourced hospital system while society carries on.
“When Delta hit we were unprepared, vaccination rates were too low and the rules and responses were little different from March 2020’s. It took three months before a new response was in place. The cost to Kiwis at home and abroad was enormous. With reserves depleted by that episode, the response to Omicron needs to be different and better.
“Today we face the imminent arrival of a new variant, with Omicron cases piling up at the border, several near misses already, and the booster program just beginning, the run up to Omicron feels like Delta déjà vu.
“We again find ourselves fortunate that our isolation gave us a head start. Omicron started in Africa over a month ago, and spread through Europe and North America before getting close to our Islands. The important thing is that time doesn’t get wasted.
“After a month of almost total absence, Jacinda needs to come out with real solutions for dealing with this new ‘whole new virus.’ There are five things Cabinet should do:
- Acknowledge that Omicron will change the script, so that new thinking is possible. The Government’s old elimination playbook of lock ‘em down and lock ‘em out will be destroyed by first contact with the enemy.
- Set new goals of minimising hospitalisation and death from Omicron by protecting the vulnerable, so strategies can be judged against clear objectives
- Start with an all-out sprint to ensure the most vulnerable receive boosters. Don’t count how many boosters are issued, but how many of the over 65s and those with underlying conditions get boosted first, so the Booster program is as effective as possible
- Ensure home isolation for the vulnerable is ready to go, with whatever is necessary, including food, homecare and oximeters, so those at greatest risk can be protected from infection
- Balance supply chain continuity with reducing spread through clear rules for testing and isolation in the case of infection, so society can function
- Cease nonsensical rules such as restrictions on citizens importing Rapid Antigen tests, start by allowing any of the 67 point-of-care tests approved by Australia’s TGA to be used in New Zealand immediately, so New Zealanders can take care of their own health
- Be clear that travellers entering New Zealand will not be forced to go through MIQ when likely hundreds of thousands in New Zealand already have Omicron, so that those stranded overseas and those who depend on travel can finally have clarity
- Be clear that schools will not be closed and, if the Government believes they will, then under what circumstances, so parents can plan the year with some certainty about childcare
- Be clear about whether, and if so in what circumstances, the Government would revert to old school Alert Level lock downs, so that businesses can have clarity about what they are likely to face
- Produce robust modelling of what is expected from Omicron, including up-to-date reports of true hospital capacity and how that capacity will deal with realistic omicron scenarios
“Above all, the Government must give clarity about its plan, learning from the experience of other countries who had less time, and stick to it so all New Zealanders can be treated like adults and plan their futures.
"It is not good enough for the Government to say that it is 'keeping all options open,' meaning it will sacrifice any other aspect of human welfare without notice. It needs to have a clear plan it is prepared to stick to.
“The Prime Minister has been virtually invisible for a month. In some ways that is understandable, but COVID doesn’t observe Christmas. She must present a clear plan that addresses the issues above to give New Zealanders clarity this afternoon.”