Act Party leader David Seymour has called for the Government to deliver a Christmas present to New Zealanders overseas by opening the borders to them in time for Christmas, regardless of the vaccination rate.
In an interview with the NZ Herald for the 90 Per Cent Project, Seymour said he did not believe the decision to open the borders should be based on a vaccination target – but whether people had been given enough chance to get a vaccination.
"If you set a target number, then other people are deciding for you. They decide whether we get to that number and whether the country can move on.
"If we say the country is moving on by a date, then it's up to you to choose. The rest of the country is going to move – you can either come with or stay where you are."
He said Christmas was probably the earliest viable date for that to happen.
"By that stage there is no way anyone can say that they have not had an opportunity. Under 30's - the last group able to be vaccinated – will have had several months by then, with a six-week wait between doses. That is more than enough time to have had a vaccination should they want one."
His view accords with that of Sir John Key.
However, a Talbot Mills Research poll published by the NZ Herald has shown only 26 per cent of people favoured opening the borders once everybody had had a chance to get vaccinated, while 64 per cent favoured waiting until a 90 per cent plus vaccination rate.
Seymour was vaccinated early in the rollout, and said he was concerned some people were wary of the vaccine because they were suspicious of government.
He did not believe it should be mandatory, but said it was the way out of the restrictions the virus was placing on our freedoms.
"I think it's fantastic the same business that gave us Viagra, through the miracles of science and capitalism, developed in record time a vaccine that solves one of the world's most pressing problems."
Asked how he would get the final 10-15 per cent vaccinated, Seymour said a simple financial incentive should be introduced in the later stages of the rollout: an extra payment to vaccinating organisations for every person they got through the doors.
That organisation could use the funding to pay for rewards, or offer cash payments to people to get vaccinated, or for educational or other measures.
"If it costs us $100 a person to get the last 100,000 people done, that is $10 million. $10 million when you're losing $1 billion a week through lockdowns is nothing."
Seymour was criticised after he took issue with Waipareira Trust issuing a priority access code for Maori to get vaccinated. Maori vaccination rates are lower than other ethnicities.
He said the Government had been late to get pharmacies, GPs, iwi, marae and community groups on board in rolling out the vaccines, but now that had happened it was having an impact.
Seymour has also taken some credit (contested by National leader Judith Collins) for coming up with the idea of mobile buses travelling around the streets – the Mr Whippy model.
On Tuesday, Seymour released Act's revamped Covid-19 policy. The crux of that was that it was time to give up trying to keep the country Covid-free, and instead minimise the harm of Covid-19.
Its proposals included opening the borders before Christmas for people who were coming from low-risk countries, allowing them to isolate at home and with testing.
The plan included restricting transmission through vaccination, more use of rapid testing, and investing in better treatments for those with Covid-19. It also proposed more use of home isolation for those arriving in New Zealand, with strict monitoring conditions.
Ardern has said that when 90 per cent of those eligible were vaccinated, it would equate to about 76 per cent of the population and that might be enough to ensure lockdowns were no longer needed.
However, she has not said what rates would be needed for the borders.
On Tuesday in Parliament, Ardern reiterated that it was not enough for the country as a whole to have high vaccination rates. Before the borders re-opened, the Government needed to be sure that high vaccinations went across all demographics and regions of the country so that there were no unvaccinated pockets.