Luxon: ‘New Zealand deserves better on Covid’

The Government’s plan to deal with Omicron is under fire from National Party leader Christopher Luxon. Times file photo Wayne Martin

The Government is unprepared to tackle the challenge presented by the Omicron strain of Covid-19 and is developing its response “on the fly”.

That’s the view of Botany MP and National Party leader Christopher Luxon, who’s criticising what he says is a lack of preparation on the part of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Cabinet.

“The threat of Omicron became apparent in December but nothing seems to have happened in the last month to prepare New Zealand,” Luxon says.

“Instead Jacinda Ardern and her Government took a month off.

“Once again the Government is scrambling.

“When Delta hit last August, they developed a response on the fly and now history is repeating itself.

“New Zealand has been slow on boosters and slow on vaccines for 5–11 year olds and now we’re being appallingly slow on rapid tests.”

Luxon’s comments followed an announcement by Ardern on January 20 that Northland would move to the orange light of the Covid-19 response framework at 11.59pm that day while the rest of the country would remain at orange.

Ardern subsequently moved all of New Zealand back into the red light Covid setting at 11.59pm on January 23 after news broke Omicron was potentially transmitting in the community.

“Our plan for managing Omicron cases in the early stage remains the same as Delta where we will rapidly test, contact trace and isolate cases and contacts in order to slow the spread,” she says.

“As we have seen elsewhere in the world, Omicron is significantly more infectious and in due course we know we will see far more cases than we have in the two years of the pandemic to date.

“The difference to previous outbreaks is we are vaccinated and even better prepared.

“Limiting the threat of Omicron will take a team effort, like we have done before, and there’s one task I’m explicitly requesting New Zealanders to undertake as soon as possible — get boosted.

“For those of you with children … all children aged 5-11 can now be vaccinated and I encourage parents and caregivers to seek out information to help you make that important decision.”

Luxon says Ardern recently revealed New Zealand has just 4.6 million Covid rapid tests in the country currently.

“Jacinda Ardern seems to think the 2020 playbook will work against Omicron,” he says.

“It won’t. Even with Delta, our PCR testing systems were overwhelmed within days.

“Rapid tests will be critical, but the Government doesn’t have enough.”

Luxon says he’s aware of companies seeking permission to import rapid tests that have had their applications before the Ministry of Health for weeks.

“National has been saying for months they [rapid tests] should be widely available, including from supermarkets and pharmacies.

“Yet the Government has done little other than to make them available for the unvaccinated and for some selected employers.

“To make matters worse, the Prime Minister still can’t outline how they will be used, when they will be available, and what isolation rules will be in place.

“She even thinks our current contact tracing system will work against Omicron.

“It looks like the Government is making the same mistakes all over again and embarking on a second year of Covid complacency.

“A lack of urgency, a lack of a plan, and making things up as they go. New Zealand deserves better.”