The Government appears to be looking at adjusting its response to future delta outbreaks.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern suggested this at her Covid media conference yesterday.
“We will take the opportunity over the course of the week to delve into a little bit more detail as to what that modelling is showing us about what vaccination rates mean for restrictions in the future,” she said.
The Prime Minister appeared to suggest that once vaccination rates got up, then it would be possible to control future outbreaks of Covid by more targeted, local restrictions, thus ending region-wide lockdowns.
“What we probably may not have registered is that in the past, before Covid arrived on our shores, our public health officials, if they saw a flu outbreak in aged care residential facility, had the ability to close it down and manage it,” she said.
“Likewise, for other areas of work, if they see outbreaks of other infectious diseases, they have the ability to take those local approaches.
“And so those are the kinds of things you want to have available to you in managing outbreaks in vaccinated environments.”
It would seem Ardern is alluding to what POLITIK understands is a reconsideration within the Beehive of the elimination strategy.
That may not mean its end but rather a subtly different interpretation of what it means.
Ardern has raised the question of refining lockdowns to highly localized areas.
But after yesterday’s run on the Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) vouchers, there must also now be questions about how higher vaccination rates will impact the border.
The Joint Head of MIQ, Megan Main, said that 31,800 people applied yesterday for the 3205 MIQ rooms that were released for use up to the end of the year.
She said 5364 people were successful and that more rooms may be released later this week.
The largest number (1352 people) were from Australia, which gives a clue to what has complicated the MIQ system.
Had the trans-Tasman bubble stayed in place, then it is reasonable to extrapolate from the number of successful bids that 25 per cent of the number who applied yesterday would not have needed to.
What that also suggests is that there are several thousand New Zealanders in Australia anxious to get home for Christmas. That is a political challenge for the Government.
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson was asked about this last Friday.
“It is a very different environment now than the one we were in then (in April when the bubble opened),” he said.
“As you know, we have a desire to get New Zealanders vaccinated, and then, once we do that, that opens up a series of options for us.
“I’m not going to pre-empt any of those today.
“But the more people we get vaccinated and the quicker we get them vaccinated, the more options open up for us.”
There is also the possibility of a state by state approach. Most notably, West Australia has remained Covid-free
“One of the things that we might be able to assess as we move forward is whether we could return to a state-by-state approach,” Robertson said.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, once 80 per cent vaccination rate is reached, overseas flights will resume.
“I think what we want to do is see where we are—both countries, and states within Australia—on vaccination rates in eight weeks,” said Robertson.
“It’s, to us, appropriate to continue to review it.
“Obviously, what we have at the moment in Australia is certainly, in at least a couple of states, uncontrolled outbreaks, and in another one, one that they’re struggling to control.
“And so for now, we think this is the appropriate position to be in.
“But let’s see where we are in eight weeks.”
However, the world is beginning to open up.
More than 2,300 travellers vaccinated against Covid-19 have received approval to enter Singapore in the 16 days since the application window for a new travel arrangement with Germany and Brunei opened.
Under the scheme, vaccinated travellers from the two countries can enter Singapore and go about their activities without having to serve a stay-home notice period.
But they will have to take up to four Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab tests during their trip.
Canada has previously been cited as a country to watch by the Prime Minister, and it has now opened its borders to travellers.
With nearly 70 per cent of its population vaccinated, it allows fully vaccinated travellers in without any isolation or quarantine but with random testing on entry.
Ardern has made it clear that a high vaccination rate will be what determines the future.
“High vaccination rates will undoubtedly be a game-changer for New Zealand, but the key there is high,” she said yesterday.
“You will have heard Dr Bloomfield say he’s aiming for 90 per cent plus of eligible New Zealanders.
“So that’s the range which we want to see people aspiring to.
“That’s the kind of range that means we have fewer restrictions.”
Ardern might be able to be optimistic about the vaccination rate; last night, the Ministry of Health reported that 79 per cent of those eligible to be vaccinated were either booked in or had had at least one dose. Thirty-eight per cent were fully vaccinated.
That leaves around 900,000 people to book in and get their first job.
It is obviously this rapidly changing vaccination scene plus the apparent public frustration with the Level Four lockdown (and its economic costs) which has prompted the Government to begin rethinking its strategies.