Jacinda Ardern hits out at 'dangerous' suggestions to open border amid COVID-19 'surge'

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has hit out at "dangerous" suggestions to open the border and is accusing the Opposition of "making decisions that could risk safety". 

"I've seen today and across the past week calls for our borders to be opened to the world - a world where the virus is escalating, not slowing, and not even peaking in some countries yet," Ardern told reporters on Tuesday. 

As New Zealanders get to enjoy weekend sport, go to restaurants and bars, and can gather in whatever numbers they like, other countries are extending and returning to lockdown, Ardern said. 

"These are hard won gains and we have as a Government no intention of squandering them. The idea that we should open our border in this environment has a price and that price could be a second wave of COVID-19 in our country.

"Yes, we want to open our borders as soon as it is safe to do so and we have been in the enviable position of investigating and undertaking work with Australia and in the Pacific, and where there are safe opportunities we will pursue them."

The European Union has drafted up a list of 14 nations which will be allowed into the bloc from July, and the list includes New Zealand, Australia, Japan and Canada - but China and the United States are excluded. 

Ardern confirmed New Zealand has no plans to abandon the mandatory two weeks of quarantine required of returnees. 

"While the EU is looking to open its doors for a handful of countries including New Zealand, I'm reminded that New Zealanders returning from trips offshore were part of the spread of the virus in New Zealand in the first place," she said. 

"There is a time in the future when we will open our borders but to suggest that time is now when the virus is getting worse is frankly dangerous.

"What we can do is continue to increase our capacity to accommodate New Zealanders who need to get back here - those who have loved ones to care for, job opportunities to pursue, a country that is their home and is safer than most to return to."

National leader Todd Muller is calling on the Government to provide a strategy for reopening the border and to outline when it could potentially happen. 

But Ardern said it is dangerous to suggest opening the borders at this point in time. 

"The Opposition's primary focus seems to be making decisions that could risk that safety. We are not in a position to give dates and decisions on something as significant as opening up a border when we are in the middle of a situation where it's surging."

Muller repeatedly asked the Prime Minister in Parliament to outline what the criteria is for other countries to be deemed safe enough for New Zealand to open the border to. 

Ardern said a country or a state would need to be free of community transmission, have the ability to rapidly contact trace, and have rapid turnaround of testing so the Government can observe the data and make judgements. 

"To come back to the principle of what the member seems to be getting at - the suggestion that somehow New Zealand is standing in the way of opening up a trans-Tasman bubble is simply incorrect," Ardern said. 

"There are two issues at play: one, community transmission in Australia. The idea that we would open up to the entire nation right now I think is out of step with where the New Zealand public is and would threaten our position."

As for state-by-state openings, Ardern said it is up to her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison. 

The Ministry of Health reported no new cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand or at the managed isolation facilities on Tuesday. This means the number of active cases in New Zealand remains at 22.

All active cases have recently returned from overseas and are in managed isolation facilities. There have been no cases of community transmission.

Latest managed isolation facility numbers:

  • As of early Tuesday, the facilities have 4858 beds occupied out of a total capacity of 6103 so there are currently 1245 spare beds
  • The Government is expecting 2751 arrivals this week with 1759 departures from the facilities leaving 253 spare beds
  • The Government is also aiming to open four more facilities this week, with 897 beds in total providing backup of around 1150 spare beds.