As evidence piles up around the world that vaccination reduces the Covid death rate, the Prime Minister is talking more positively about opening New Zealand up.

“Whether you’re looking at Singapore or any of the EU countries, you do see them altering their strategies and the use of restrictions as a result,” she said yesterday.

So the next stage here would be to get the highest possible vaccination rates.

“Elimination continues to be the best option for New Zealand at this point in time while we vaccinate New Zealanders,” she said.

 “But you see every country still using restrictions.

“We just don’t want to use the high alert levels as part of them.”

Over the past week first Covid Response Minister, Chris Hipkins, and now Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern herself have been carefully moving the public rhetoric away from the widely misunderstood elimination strategy towards a new, more open situation where we accept some Covid cases.

Acceptance will become more publicly palatable with the growing amount of evidence showing that Covid may not necessarily be a death sentence.

The evidence that vaccination reduces the risk of hospitalisation and death from Delta is now coming in from multiple studies in the United States.

Based on those studies, the Centers for Disease Control, in their weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report from last Friday, said fully vaccinated people reduced their risk of infection by a factor of five;  from hospitalisation and death by a factor of 10.

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University of Auckland physicist, Sean Hendy, told National MP Chris Bishop at the Health Select Committee last week that the higher the vaccination rate then, the less time would be needed in lockdown to eliminate an outbreak.

But Hendy’s advice is based on an assumption that all cases of Delta might need to be eliminated.

The Prime Minister has a subtly different spin on this.

She appeared yesterday to be suggesting that elimination was now a transition strategy that would continue until vaccination rates were up.

She even appeared to break with the practice of not specifying a numeric vaccination coverage target.

“There is nothing holding us back in Auckland when it comes to vaccines,” she said.

“There’s the capacity to administer 220000 doses of the vaccine in the region this week.

“If around 130 (000) of those are people’s first dose, Aucklanders will hit 80 per cent coverage of first vaccinations in one week’s time and we will be well on our way to the city being better protected against the virus.”

Now she is quite open in saying that vaccinations will lead to an opening up.

“Just as we’ve been world-leading with the success of our elimination strategy,  in the future, I want New Zealand to be world-leading both on the level of freedoms and our health and wellbeing,” she said.

“And high rates of vaccination is how we can achieve just that.”

On Monday, Ardern said the government would find a way to make sure that regardless of the circumstances globally and domestically, that we were able to have the events like Rhythm and Vines that “made New Zealand summers.”

“I want to be able to continue that, so I can tell you I’m very committed to finding a way that we will do that,” she said.

And that raises the question of whether international acts can come in, whether masks and social distancing will still be needed outdoors, and whether numbers might continue to be restricted.

Yesterday she enlarged on her Monday comments by going back to the Reconnection Strategy launched three weeks but which Hipkins last week said was up for review because of Delta.

“You will have seen that when we released our plans around reopening, which still stand, they were all about preventing cases at the border,” she said.

“And so that’s still a key part of that work because it was a key part of the advice from Professor David Skegg.

“And so the comments that I was making around a Kiwi summer are really what we want to do is try and think of the kinds of measures that you might want to have in place.

“I mean, regardless of what might happen over the course of a summer, what can we do to try and ensure that some of those events can continue on regardless?”

But it is clear that internationally the attitude to Delta is changing as vaccinations cut in.

Australian Tourism Minister Dan Tehan said at the weekend that he expected an Australia-Singapore travel bubble would open by December.

Qantas has pencilled in December 18 for the first regular Sydney-Singapore flight since March 2020, alongside a restart of flights to London and Los Angeles.

The Australian government plans to begin issuing ‘international Covid-19 vaccination certificates’ from October.

These would not only provide proof of vaccination but also allow mutual recognition of vaccines – considered essential to establishing international travel bubbles – as not all countries have approved or issued the same shots.

As to other travel bubble destinations, which unlike ‘low-risk countries, would not require any hotel or home quarantine, Tehan also said there had also been some “very serious discussions with some of the Pacific Island nations.”

New Zealand would restart the trans-Tasman bubble under its own terms and on its own timeline.

Tehan reaffirmed that Australians would be largely free to fly off to anywhere in the world after the 80% vaccination milestone was reached in November, in accordance with the government’s Covid-19 Response Plan.

Singapore, a country whose Covid management  Ardern says she watches, has just received its first fully vaccinated planeload of tourists from Germany. 

They needed a negative test within 48 hours of takeoff then another three nasal swab tests in Singapore. They had to isolate until they got a negative test result.

But the Singaporean Prime Minister believes the country is on the path to opening up.

“We will move step by step – not in one big bang like some countries, but cautiously and progressively, feeling our way forward,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, said reiterating that it was not possible to bring cases down to zero even with long lockdowns.

With two of New Zealand’s closest travel partners talking of opening up; with a long hot summer ahead and with increasing evidence that high levels of vaccination can reduce the risk of Covid, the direction change in the Beehive is starting to become obvious.