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Is that It?

“The Skegg reports tells us the Government should reopen the border in stages, proportional to risk, using better technology, but we can’t yet due to low vaccination rates, and variants might undermine the vaccine. All of this was in ACT’s COVID 2.0 report released in March,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“If ACT could release these ideas five months ago, why has it taken the Government so long?

“What’s more, COVID 2.0 was released openly and transparently. A slither of the COVID-19 Strategic Public Health Advisory Group’s advice, just three letters from the group to Ayesha Verrall, were given privately to some journalists under embargo.

“The letters collectively say that the Government should attempt to maintain an elimination strategy, but some unknown level of vaccination will be needed. New variants might undermine vaccines. The 10 June letter says: ‘It is not inconceivable that, by the end of the year, there could be an established variant that is significantly resistant to the vaccine.’

“ACT’s COVID 2.0 said that ‘However the existence of these variants may be less important than their implication; that the virus will continue to mutate…. any policy response must be prepared for the possibility of a more infectious, virulent or vaccine-resistant strain that will change the calculus of responding to COVID-19 in a post-vaccine world.’

“The report suggests the Government should accept travellers according to risk “International travel is still severely restricted in many parts of the world. For example, the UK still requires travellers from most European countries (which have been placed on an “amber list”) to have tests before and (twice) after travel, and to quarantine for 10 days. About 50 countries are on a “red list”, and only British and Irish nationals are allowed to enter the UK – with stricter requirements – from these places. Yet countries such as the UK have no prospect of stamping out community transmission: their goal is merely to liberate citizens from continual lockdowns and to protect their health services from being overwhelmed.

“ACT’s COVID 2.0 report says, “Introduce a Traffic Light system for managed isolation.”

“The Letters say that there should be a group of people highly motivated to maintain elimination. “The staging of a phased re-opening of New Zealand’s borders, once the vaccination roll-out is completed, cannot be specified in detail yet. Too much will change over the next six months or longer, and no doubt any plan will be modified in the light of experience. But we recommend that the process could start with QFE (or reduced time in MIQ) for fully vaccinated New Zealand citizens or residents, who have gone overseas for a short trip and are returning to this country. There will be reliable evidence from the immunisation register as to whether such people have been fully immunised with the Pfizer vaccine, and they should be highly motivated to co-operate in keeping the virus out of New Zealand. Admitting this group first would assist in getting all the necessary procedures, such as rapid testing at airports, well 8 established before wider groups of travellers are admitted without quarantine.”

“ACT’s COVID 2.0 report from March said: “Establish a workstream to help encourage business travel from low-risk countries.”

The Skegg Letters suggest a series of improvements at the border including rapid testing at the airport, and digital information to monitor isolation and QR scanning.

“All of this is in ACT’s COVID 2.0 plan “Fast tech uptake: rather than waiting until a technology has been so thoroughly road tested around the world as to have lost all traction, it should seek to be a leading adopter of new technology.

“The real problem is that we have to wait for vaccination, but if vaccination doesn’t work because of variants, even the measures recommended by Skegg won’t work. Either, leaving us back where we started.

“Altogether, there is nothing new in this report, and that’s why the Government has sat on it. Their disastrous vaccine procurement and roll out means we all have to hurry up and wait.”

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