Speech from David Seymour to Central City Business Association, Christchurch, 5pm Tuesday October 5th.
The speech Jacinda Ardern should have delivered yesterday.
The Great Tack
Kia ora tatou,
We have reached a turning point in our COVID response.
Our earliest ancestors were navigators. Through extraordinary feats, they found these Islands in the Pacific like distant stars in outer space. It’s a tradition that’s never left us.
When our great sailors in Team New Zealand decide to tack, they tack. They don’t hesitate, they don’t half tack, they tack. The whole of Team New Zealand works in unison to sail off in a better direction.
Our direction to date has served us well. Three times we eradicated COVID from our shores with short, sharp lockdowns, then enjoyed a great summer of freedom. We killed it off with the March to May lockdown in 2020. We snuffed out the August lockdown, and again the Valentine’s Day lockdown.
Now our strategy has reached a lay line. Today’s lockdown is no longer short, nor sharp, and yet the case numbers are still rising. If we don’t change course, we will miss the mark.
In this case missing the mark is a lot more serious than losing the America’s Cup.
The worst-case scenario is the team loses its composure. People stop following the measures that are barely containing the outbreak, and it erupts.
The hospitals would be overwhelmed with unvaccinated patients, and doctors would have to make triage decisions New Zealanders have only ever seen on TV. One patient will make it, and gets a ventilator, another is sent home to die.
The best-case scenario is that we strangle our largest city, its healthcare, education, and business life throttled for an indefinite period. The pain is not the worst of it, it’s the uncertainty of knowing when it ends.
Therefore, we must tack away from the elimination strategy.
Elimination is dead. Let me be very clear that there will never again be zero cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand. We used our strategic advantage as best we could for as long as we could, and we enjoyed a New Zealand eradicated from COVID. Unfortunately, Delta has made it unsustainable.
We cannot afford to keep the other million of the team of six million New Zealanders, stranded offshore. Some countries hold lotteries to make you a citizen, but we must be the only one holding lotteries allowing citizens to enter.
Every day in New Zealand, nine women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Every day of screening suspended by lockdown means nine women who don’t know they have breast cancer. The screeners can never catch up, because any delay gives cancer a head start, and that cost lives too. Breast cancer screening is just one example of what we miss when lockdowns interfere with healthcare.
Last year Auckland schools were closed for 40 days. This year so far they’ve been closed for 45 days. We know that lost learning holds people back for their entire life. As a Labour Prime Minister I think especially about those who don’t get good education in the home and need to attend public schools to have a chance at the future.
In fact, lockdowns are bad for equity altogether. If you own your home, you get the capital gain from mass money printing lately. If you rent, chances are it’s gone up, and home ownership just got further away. If your home is comfortable, then so is lockdown. If you live in a crowded house, it is not.
Then there is business. Those who have borrowed against their house to keep going through 2020, started to get their revenue back to pre-COVID levels, our Government salutes and supports you. We understand that you can’t deal with more restrictions, and more uncertainty.
Let me apologise to the nation that we are not ready to end restrictions. We thought we could get away with the perfect COVID response. Get vaccinated and move on without ever feeling the pain of other countries responding to COVID.
We were wrong about that for two reasons. Delta changed the game. The vaccine, while highly effective against severe illness, was not the comprehensive solution we hoped for.
We needed to have an alternative for just this time. We are stuck between an old strategy that is no longer working, and a new strategy that isn’t ready. For this, I take full responsibility as Prime Minister.
The question is, what happens next?
The goal is to change tack, rapidly and with certainty.
Here is how that will happen.
By December 1st, everyone over 12 will have had the opportunity to be double vaccinated. It’s not compulsory, but I highly recommend it. On that date, we are opening.
The borders will be open. Anyone who is double vaccinated and has negative tests at days -3, 0, and 3 can enter New Zealand and isolate privately.
There will be no more wholesale isolation of New Zealanders, no more lockdowns. There will be isolation for people who have recently returned to New Zealand, who are infected or are close contacts of an infected person, or who are vulnerable to COVID infection, such as those in retirement villages.
We expect to see vaccination levels rise significantly with these initiatives. Effectively immediately, we will be launching a partnership model for vaccination. If your GP clinic, pharmacy, or community organisation successfully gets someone who is currently not booked or already vaccinated to be vaccinated, we will pay you $100.
We will ensure that New Zealanders have access to the same treatments and technologies that the best of the world have access to. If a treatment, vaccine or technology for fighting COVID-19 is approved in the U.S., E.U., U.K., or Australia, then it is automatically deemed to be approved for use in New Zealand. The ban on Rapid Antigen Testing is removed immediately.
Then we’ll get everyone involved in achieving our most important goals. How do we reduce transmission of COVID-19, hospitalisation from COVID-19, and death from COVID-19? The Ministry of Health does not have a monopoly on the answers to these questions.
Good ideas are spread through our communities, and we want them all applied to solving New Zealand’s most urgent problem.
We will host a series of all in ‘sprints.’ We will ask hospitality how to minimise transmission. GPs how to care for patients in the community without hospitalisation, and transport how to keep drivers safe. We will ask every sector of society to bring their best ideas so that we have the best protocols and technologies available to achieve our goals by December 1.
The two months ahead will be challenging. We did not want to be in lockdown this long. We will now make the resurgence payment weekly for all businesses at Alert Levels 3 and 4, and Hospitality Businesses at Alert Level 2.
However, we now have a certain plan. Today we are at Alert Level 3, on the First of December we will be at Alert Level Free.