The Prime Minister yesterday seemed to further confuse the question of whether the reconnection Strategy with the rest of the world will begin as planned from the first quarter of next year.
In Parliament on Tuesday night, Covid Response Minister, Chris Hipkins, said the Government had been looking at stratifying countries based on risk to determine whether travellers from those countries would need to go into Managed Isolation.
“I think in the Delta environment, we actually have to consider whether that’s an appropriate thing to do,” he said.
But Ardern walked that back at her media conference yesterday.
“I think what the minister was referring to yesterday is actually not a change in position, but the ongoing acknowledgement that we’ve always said with variants of concern, we’ve got to be we’ve got to make sure that we’re always appropriately risk assessing,” she said.
“And so his reference was to the fact that we have this reconnecting framework which remains in place, but within that, we have country risk assessments and just a reference to the importance of the individual risk assessment within a country, because actually with these variants of concern, individual cases of Delta are hugely problematic.
“And so you need to build that into your risk profiling for every country.“
In doing that, she said, vaccine status would be one of the most important factors.
“What we’ve always said is within this risk framework, we’ve always got to be willing and able to adapt to the variants of concern.
“I think there’s been an assumption that somehow our reopening plans have dramatically changed.
“I’d say that is not the case. We just have to build in, as I say, the impact of Delta in the way that we risk profile. But we’ve always kept room for that.”
What her comments would seem to show is that, as she says, nothing has changed since the launch of the Reconnection Strategy on August 26.
That then raises the question as to what Hipkins was talking about during the Estimates debate on Tuesday night.
His comments have been reported by a number of media outlets, and there has been no attempt by his office to negate them.
They came in the Estimates Debate during a series of exchanges with National’s Covid spokesperson, Chris Bishop.
He told POLITIK last night that he also was confused.
“One day, the Prime Minister gives a speech that explicitly references delta but says we will stratify based on risk and reopen,” he said
“Hipkins says we have to rethink all that in light of Delta, which is odd because Delta has been raging for months and apparently the Government has had a plan.
“Ardern says the plan is still the plan.
“The reality is the Government has been caught short in its planning for Delta and the response. It is now spooked by it. Experts (and us) have been warning of the danger for months.”
One possible interpretation of the Prime Minister’s comments is that rather than the risk profile being applied generically across a whole country, it might vary according to the traveller’s vaccination status.
Thus an unvaccinated traveller from a low-risk country might have to go into isolation. In contrast, a vaccinated traveller from a high-risk country might be subject to less restraints than an unvaccinated traveller from the same country.
That would seem to be what Ardern meant when she said that vaccine status would be one of the most important factors in risk profiles. (presumably of travellers)
Where the Prime Minister was clear yesterday was over vaccines.
She said work had been going on behind the scenes with other countries to acquire more Pfizer vaccine.
And yesterday, she said New Zealand had reached an agreement with Spain, which would see New Zealand receive over a quarter of a million doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
“In addition to our scheduled deliveries, those quarter of a million doses departed Madrid at 1 am New Zealand time (Thursday) and are due to arrive in Auckland this morning.
“I can tell you they are on track because I have been following the shipment’s movements on Flight Tracker.”
Before the Delta outbreak, Ardern said New Zealand planned to administer 350,000 vaccinations a week, 50,000 a day.
But daily vaccinating is well above that figure. The latest Ministry of Health figures for Wednesday show 66,935 doses were administered.
On that basis, New Zealand could be looking for another 500,000 doses this month.
The Spain deal will accommodate half that, but the country will still need another quarter of a million doses, though.
However, Ardern said the deal with Spain was the first of two deals that New Zealand had been working on.
“The second is an even larger order, and I anticipate being able to share details of it and the next week or so,” she said.
The vaccination frenzy has, however, moved New Zealand up the world vaccination league past both Australia and Poland into position 31 on the table of 38 OECD countries. The further movement might be difficult because the next country is Estonia which has fully vaccinated 42.2 per cent of its population against 28.2 per cent here.
Singapore – not a member of the OECD – is the most vaccinated country in our region, with 81% of its population fully vaccinated.
The Ministry of Health said on Monday: “Over the last 28 days, the percentage of unvaccinated (people) who became severely ill or died is 6.6 per cent, while that for the fully vaccinated is 0.9 per cent.”
Relaxing measures and opening up borders may cause a surge in infections, as barriers to the spread of the virus will be removed.
However, the Ministry said that among infected people who have been fully vaccinated, more than 99 per cent were asymptomatic or only mildly ill.
Singapore, as a matter of deliberate policy, does not report Covid cases unless they are hospitalised.
But on Wednesday, there were 664 cases in hospital, 23 cases of serious illness requiring oxygen supplementation, and 6 in critical condition in the intensive care unit.
The Ministry said the bulk of those hospitalised were unvaccinated.
“Over the last 28 days, the percentage of unvaccinated who became severely ill or died is 6.1%, while that for the fully vaccinated is 0.7%,” it said in a statement.
Meanwhile, there appears to be a holdup on the trials of self-isolation for businesses sending staff overseas and returning before Christmas.
Ardern said yesterday that the Government would want to run the trials in an environment that wasn’t at Level Three.
“In part, it’s because it will call on our on our health resources in order to be able to deliver it successfully,” she said.
“And we’re just mindful that the level three environment has a bit more constraint there.
“So we’ll be thinking about that as we continue to make those final decisions on timing.”
In the space of little more than a fortnight, the Government has gone from talking with confidence about opening up to the world early next year to obviously reviewing its Covid management policies as the Delta outbreak flared.
That may suggest that one victim of Covid is certainty.