The first shipment of Covid-19 vaccines for 30,000 border workers arrived in Auckland on Monday.
It comes a day after a new community outbreak in South Auckland, where three cases were confirmed on Sunday, throwing Auckland into a 72-hour Level 3 lockdown.
The rest of the country has been escalated to Level 2.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says everything is on track for the first vaccinations to be administered to border workers on Saturday.
The first batch of the Pfizer vaccine turned up on a flight at about 9.30am on Monday – it contains 60,000 doses, enough for 30,000 people.
More batches will continue to arrive in coming weeks and Ardern says the rollout to the rest of the country continues to be scheduled for the second half of the year.
It will take up to three weeks to get border workers and their household contacts vaccinated.
Ardern says the arrival is earlier than anticipated – it also means New Zealand has received and will start rolling out the vaccination before Australia.
Ardern says everyone in New Zealand regardless of their visa status will have access to a free vaccination.
“When we say the vaccine is available for everyone – it is for everyone … as long as you are here with your feet on this soil we want you to be vaccinated,” the PM said.
Fast-moving UK variant
At her weekly post-Cabinet press conference, Ardern confirmed the Valentine’s Day cases were of the fast-moving UK variant and health officials were keeping an open mind as to which of the three infected, a mother, father and daughter, is the index case.
Ardern says all scenarios are being considered for how the virus might have got into the community, but it was encouraging most of the close contacts of the infected cases had returned negative test results.
Director-General of Health, Doctor Ashley Bloomfield, says the next couple of days will be crucial to containing the virus.
He summed up what he thought many New Zealanders were probably feeling – “it’s like being on a rollercoaster you haven’t actually bought a ticket for”.
Testing at the border
The infected mother works for LSG Sky Chefs, and handled laundry from airlines, but isn’t considered a border worker.
However, LSG was testing people outside of the scope of the guidelines, including the mother, but she missed her most recent test on February 1 as she was on annual leave.
The mother and daughter developed symptoms and were tested and confirmed positive on Sunday.
National Party leader Judith Collins says the scope of the testing at the border needs to be widened and made mandatory.
She says the current system, whereby businesses voluntarily sign up, is the equivalent of making it voluntary to pay tax.
National’s Covid-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop says anyone who handles anything from a plane or managed isolation and quarantine facility should be tested.
He says Inland Revenue has the ability to make people fill out a tax form, so mandating testing of all the relevant businesses shouldn’t be difficult.
Collins suggested the Ministry of Health could learn something from Inland Revenue as to how to communicate and enforce such measures.
Level 3 transition going well
Ardern says public transport movements had dropped right off on Monday as people listened to lockdown advice and stayed home.
The system whereby people could apply for exemptions to travel outside of the border was responding quickly with almost 7000 requests approved and issued by 1.30pm on Monday.
Panic-buying was high on Sunday evening after Ardern announced lockdown would kick in at midnight.
She says human behaviour meant some people felt the need to stock up on toilet paper, flour and yeast.
“I cannot explain that.’’