Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has hit back at Sir John Key's suggestions that the Government is using fear as a motivator for people to get vaccinated - and that Kiwis are living in a "smug hermit kingdom".
Key has doubled down this morning on his comments in the Herald yesterday, criticising the Government's Covid response, saying "fear and hope are not a strategy".
Key said he was speaking out after people were telling him they were "quietly going broke" during the latest lockdown.
He told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking that his aim was to change the thinking.
Writing in the Herald yesterday, Key called for financial incentives instead of fear tactics to increase vaccination numbers.
He said, "the aim should no longer be to exist in a smug hermit kingdom, but to get back to a life where New Zealanders can travel overseas – for any reason - knowing they can return home when they want to, and where we again welcome visitors to this country".
Key told Hosking a number of people were approaching him who had businesses that were quietly going broke.
He said people should listen to the health advice in a measured way but fear and strategy were not a proper approach.
Key cited cigarette packaging - the scary photos didn't work but putting the price up did.
Key said the country couldn't carry on doing what it was doing - it had to reopen. "We actually need to come up with some tension resilience and get people vaccinated."
Ardern hits back with Covid stats
Ardern told The Am Show that Key was wrong as "hope and luck" had not got the country the lowest case number in the OECD, the lowest death rates, an economy that returned to pre-Covid levels and some of the fewest restrictions any country had experienced. "That was not luck, that was a plan."
And Ardern joked at the start of her RNZ interview this morning: "I wondered if you were going to introduce me as the military leader of the hermit kingdom."
Ardern told RNZ the government had been making policy based on the best evidence, and released information behind its decision-making.
"Just making sure that people know that our researchers and evidence overseas is telling us that a high vaccination rate doesn't stop outbreaks. I think it's just important information for people to know."
Ardern says many countries had kept border restrictions in place despite having large numbers of vaccinated citizens.
Ardern told TVNZ she was "absolutely" happy about the five million vaccinations administered so far - but continued to call on people to go out and get vaccinated.
Asked about lockdowns, she acknowledged that that was the only way New Zealand was able to protect itself before this.
But when vaccination rates got to a higher percentage rate, fewer restrictions could be imposed, Ardern told TVNZ.
"We need there to be good spread [of vaccination] - we need it to be across ages. But when you get up around those 90 marks, then you start seeing it really make a difference to day to day life."
People understood that the higher the vaccination rate, the better, she said.
Asked if a vaccine passport was a reality for New Zealand, Ardern said it was something that the Government was considering.
Key came up with a five-point plan in yesterday's Herald:
1. Give Māori and Pacific health providers a financial incentive for every person they get vaccinated in the next six weeks.
2. Give every person aged between 12-29 a $25 voucher of their choice if they get vaccinated before December 1.
3. Allow only vaccinated people into licensed premises (and maybe park the Shot Bro bus outside a few nightclubs as an incentive).
4. Tell New Zealanders when borders will reopen. It might incentivise more people to get jabbed.
5. Stop ruling by fear. Instead, reassure people that living with the virus is possible, as long as you're vaccinated. Take positive actions like funding Pharmac to invest in therapies proven to help fight the virus, build up our hospital capacity and workforce, use saliva testing for Covid, subsidise home-testing kits for Covid and order booster shots now.
Ardern conceded that Key's Covid response ideas were reasonable - but noted that the Government was already working on some of the measures he was proposing.
Some of those ideas related to the border re-opening; the Government had said that from the beginning of 2022, there would be variation.
On incentives, providers on the ground were already doing that. The same was happening among employers who were providing incentives for the employees to get vaccinated.
Plans involving managed isolation were also already being looked at, she said.
Key told Hosking that officials knew that Kiwis were compliant people - proved by the lockdowns - but the reality was they wouldn't get the last 20 per cent of the population vaccinated without doing something radical, such as banning unvaccinated people from outdoor concerts.
"That's not a radical thing by the way, our daughter was in Paris a few weeks ago ... and if you don't have your vaccine passport you're not going to get in there."
Key's comments come as Auckland marks its 40th day in lockdown today.
18 new cases yesterday
There were 18 new cases of Covid-19 in the community yesterday, the Ministry of Health says.
All of the new cases are in Auckland.
Key has criticised the Government's approach to managed isolation and said New Zealand needed to prioritise opening up the borders again.
Key wrote in the Herald on Sunday: "The aim should no longer be to exist in a smug hermit kingdom, but to get back to a life where New Zealanders can travel overseas – for any reason - knowing they can return home when they want to, and where we again welcome visitors to this country."
"These are not radical aims, yet there has been no coherent plan shared with the public for when or how these might be achieved. The only urgency we've seen for months is an enthusiasm to lock down our country, lock up our people and lock out our citizens who are overseas."
Officials said 16 of yesterday's 18 cases have been epidemiologically linked, and all 16 are in isolation at home or in MIQ.
The 18 cases follow the announcement of 16 cases on Saturday. Of those 16 cases, half were in isolation and half were in the community while infectious.
Meanwhile, 12 people with Covid-19 are in hospital - four in ICU or a high dependency unit.
There were 13,442 tests in the last 24 hours. The vaccination campaign has reached a new milestone with five million doses administered.
Of those, 51,472 doses were given yesterday.
First doses made up 19,350 of yesterday's jabs, and second doses made up 32,122 - and 82 per cent of Aucklanders have now had their first dose.
Hospitality sector 'losing $23m a day'
Meanwhile the hospitality sector in Auckland has lost up to $358 million in the first two weeks of the level 4 lockdown - equating to about $23 million a day.
Hospitality NZ Auckland president, Jamie Freeman, told TVNZ that those working in the sector have really struggled during this lockdown.
"We're now into week six, so the losses will be significantly higher."
Freeman said some businesses will be weeks if not days away from permanent closure as a result.
"Once you're closed, once the trade's gone - you can't bounce back."
Operators had reported going into debt and selling their homes to stay afloat and to look after their people - employees.
Freeman said extra financial support from the Government would likely be the only thing that would help keep some businesses in the sector afloat.
"We need to help now, just for a few months until the situation stabilises.
"We need a wage subsidy under level 2 and that's going through to level 1 - and then maybe the tail-end of that - and a resurgence payment paid weekly or bi-weekly dependent on the scale of losses."
Businesses needed that support to survive, he said.
"We just need action."
"I'm really scared of how many people will go under if they don't [help]."
Three cases detected at border
Three new border cases were also announced by health officials yesterday. One of them was a new arrival from Russia via UAE on September 21.
The other two are historical cases. One person arrived from Sri Lanka on September 11, with their infection picked up through a day 12 test. The second had arrived from the UK via Singapore on September 22 and tested positive on day 0.
Testing in six Auckland suburbs of interest is continuing. There were 980 tests processed yesterday from Clover Park, Māngere, Favona, Ōtara, Manurewa and Mount Wellington/Sylvia Park.
Everyone in Clover Park and nearby areas is encouraged to get a test even if they have no symptoms. More than 2140 tests from the suburb have been processed since last Sunday.
In three days more than 1300 tests from Mt Wellington residents have also been processed.
Their closest testing stations include the Auckland Netball Centre in St Johns and a testing station at Mt Smart Stadium in Penrose.
A new pop-up testing centre opens today at the Tuakau Rugby League Club.
The Pukekohe pop-up community testing centre is now at the Pukekohe Netball Centre.
In the last 24 hours there have been 13,442 tests, of which 4498 were in Auckland.