COVID-19: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admits New Zealand made it to alert level 1 earlier than expected, caution exercised with trans-Tasman bubble

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says a travel corridor with Australia is still on the cards despite concerns about community transmission across the Tasman.

The move to alert level 1 begs the question of when New Zealand can ease some border restrictions with Australia. The idea of a Trans-Tasman bubble has been floating for more than a month, and pressure is building from the likes of the tourism industry and Opposition politicians.

Australia still has about 450 active cases of SARS-CoV-2 - the virus that causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease. 

"At the moment we just need to make sure they're [Australia] in a similar position to us in terms of how they're tracking for cases," Ardern told The AM Show on Tuesday.

"We have to make sure that we feel that we are not losing any of our gains by making the decisions that we're making - different [Australian] states are in different positions at the moment.

"We're working on a framework at the moment that would help us not just with Australia, because we might need to make these decisions with other countries in the future."

Asked by host Duncan Garner if New Zealand would still ease border restrictions with Australia if it continued to record new cases, Ardern said it was important to keep in mind different Australian states were in different positions. New South Wales and Victoria make up Australia's five latest cases, while all other states recorded no new infections in the past 24 hours.

"It is fair to say that there are some states in Australia that are in a not too dissimilar position to New Zealand right now," Ardern said.

"It's Australia's call whether they open up state by state rather than wait for the whole country," she said, adding it wasn't that long ago New Zealand was also recording single-digit cases.

There have also been calls to allow movement to other countries free of COVID-19 such as the Cook Islands and Taiwan. Ardern said that the framework needs to be ready to go first.

"We're working on some of that criteria," she said.

"I think New Zealanders wouldn't want to jeopardise where we are and put ourselves back into levels of restrictions because we haven't been rigorous at the border, so we will be rigorous at the border."

 

But Ardern said Samoa isn't seeking a travel relationship with New Zealand.

"Samoa would need to want to [open] and at this point - they have had experience with measle outbreaks and so they're taking a very cautious approach.

"Other Pacific Island nations, yes we would love to see whether or not we're in similar positions. Places like Cook Islands [and] Niue look to have been COVID free - you would assume, of course, that we would be looking in that direction.

Jacinda Ardern.
Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: The AM Show

"We also have to make sure that we're getting all of the border settings right - [there's] quite a lot of logistical work to do on the ground and that's what we're working on at the moment."

Events, public transport, and hospitality can all resume as normal on Tuesday as the country wakes up to alert level 1.

Ardern announced the move to level 1 on Monday, ending nearly three months of domestic restrictions.  

But she warned the pandemic is still here.

"Did I think we would get here? Well, that was always the plan but it is earlier than I think most of us thought we would be able to get here," Ardern said.

"We had always planned, though, to go hard, go early and try and get to normality as quickly as we possibly could.

"It did progress more quickly than we thought it would so that's positive. The one point I'd also make, though - this pandemic is still with us," she said, pointing to the number of new cases still accumulating in other parts of the world.

Despite a move to alert level 1, Ardern said it's "very very very" likely there will be cases in New Zealand again, despite no known active infections left in the country. NZ is currently on a 17 day run of no new cases.

But it's "not failure" if new infections arise, she said.

"That is just part of our going elimination campaign," Ardern told The AM Show.

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