‘Was there a single new idea?’: Clarke Gayford rubbishes John Key comments on the Government’s Covid-19 response

New Zealand’s First man Clarke Gayford has offered up a scathing review of Sir John Key’s comments that the country should no longer exist “in a smug hermit kingdom”, saying they contributed to partisan politics and not to the Covid-19 vaccination rollout.

The former prime minister’s opinion, published in the Herald on Sunday, said the Government had shared no coherent plan with the public for when or how New Zealand’s international borders might begin to open up.

“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,” he criticised.

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”.

But today Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s partner, Gayford, said Key should have been “the golden ticket” to help New Zealanders “swing in behind” the vaccine drive.

“It was such a shame that the name slinging and use of disinformation divided his contribution into partisan politics,” Gayford posted to Twitter.

“Because here’s the thing. All roads back to a semi-normal life free of restrictions, which are a burden on EVERYONE, involve GETTING A SHOT. It really is as simple and yet as important as that.”

He went on to urge people to persuade friends and family who are “reluctant”, to get the vaccine.

“Talk to friends, talk to family, talk to neighbours an extended whanau, beg them, bribe them, wear them down, hold out visits from your kids, offer car rides or computer booking skills, do whatever you can, be it carrot or stick, to find a way to get those hesitant around you onboard.”

Gayford also suggested Key’s opinion piece did not contribute any new ideas for tackling the community outbreak.

“Now that the dust has settled a bit are we able to rationally reflect on what exactly Sir John Key has added to the conversation and cause of our once-in-a-generation pandemic response? Was there a single new idea that wasn’t already planned, discussed or in train?”

On Monday Ardern also knocked down Key’s comments.

She told the AM Show “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.”

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 reopening; 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.

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