New Zealand should be looking to Australia in its approach to eliminating Covid-19, Opposition leader Simon Bridges said today.
It comes as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced this afternoon the country will be moving from Alert Level 4 to 3 at midnight, April 27, extending the lockdown by five days.
Shortly after the announcement, Mr Bridges, who has been leading the epidemic select committees, put the extension down to the Government not having "done the groundwork".
"The Government hasn’t done enough and isn’t ready by its own standards and rhetoric," Mr Bridges said.
"New Zealand is being held back because the Government has not used this time to ensure best practice of testing and tracing and the availability of PPE hasn’t been at the standard it should have been."
"This is a real shame as businesses will suffer further damage and that will lead to poor health outcomes as a result of the huge stress this will cause for a lot of people."
When asked if there was an argument that the lockdown should be extended longer than April 27, Mr Bridges said "for business people for the overall health system and the need to get back to doing cancer screening and so on, I'm glad it's not longer".
"It's not like Level 3 is any different... it's still a lockdown of sorts," he said, calling it an Alert Level '3.9'.
"Let's urge the Government to really put pedal to the metal in the things that perhaps should have already happened in testing, tracing and PPE.
"What my worry is, and I think more New Zealanders are starting to think this, is that medicine is worse than the cure. The overall health outcomes, the stresses the mental health issues, the issue of jobs and businesses."
During the post-Cabinet press conference, Director of Health Ashley Bloomfield said New Zealand would have the capacity to trace 5000 contacts per day.
"In the coming weeks we will continue to focus on testing people with symptoms suggestive of Covid-19 and hunting any undetected cases that might exist.
"We will also be stepping up our testing on asymptomatic workers in facilities where there have been recent cases including in health care settings, essential business and tourist industry groups and also proactively testing cases and contacts of new cases where indicated, regardless of symptoms."
The Government also announced today $55 million for New Zealand's contact tracing system.
Yesterday Ms Ardern asked the public to keep a diary of their daily contacts to help the country's contact-tracers with their work.
"Just keeping a quick note of where you've been, and who you've been with," Ms Ardern said.
Today Ms Ardern also spoke about testing, saying New Zealand's testing had "scaled up and we've now tested over 85,000 New Zealanders, one of the highest testing rates per capita in the world".
"In the last few days we expanded testing to inclusive random testing in Queenstown, the Waikato, Canterbury and Auckland, we have tested over 1000 people this way and so far have produced not a single positive result."
On Saturday, Health Minister David Clark announced a $200 million boost for personal protective equipment (PPE) to include 20 million face masks, 9.4 million pairs of gloves and 1.2 million aprons.
He added that $140 million worth of orders of PPE had already been placed, meaning over the next eight weeks an additional 75 million items will arrive in New Zealand.
Mr Bridges today also spoke of Australia's effort to eliminate Covid-19, saying it had similar outcomes health-wise but with "much better" economic outcomes.
"Comparison is incredibly important. They have kept their health system open, they have kept the vast majority of their businesses much more open than we have. All the while getting the same or similar health outcomes," he said.
"I’m sure many Kiwis feel frustration that we still can’t do many things Australians have done through the entire lockdown period, at great cost in terms of jobs and livelihoods, with similar health outcomes."
"We will be asking the effect of another week of lockdown, the effect of Level 3, asking questions about why actually we can't do what Australia has done?"
Australia's federal Health Minister Greg Hunt announced yesterday the rate of increase in new cases was below one per cent for seven days in a row, AAP reported.
"What it means is we now have a sustained and genuine flattening of the curve."
According to Australia's health ministry website, it had an increase of 26 cases between 6am this morning and 6am yesterday. Seventy people had died in Australia out of 6,612 Covid-19 cases and of that 4,230 have recovered.