Jacinda Ardern, Chris Hipkins hit back after Winston Peters savages COVID-19 response

Jacinda Ardern and Chris Hipkins have hit back at Winston Peters after he savaged the Government's COVID-19 response as he launched the NZ First election campaign. 

Peters said Labour Party ministers could have done a better job of combatting the coronavirus, taking aim at the Government's testing woes and promoting his own border policy.

"We could have done better on COVID-19. That's a fact," Peters said on Wednesday. "You'll never get anywhere if everyone thinks we've done the best job in the world. We haven't done as well as we could have done."

Peters added, "We let our guard down. Too many things fell through the gaps, or the hole rather, that was left by the bureaucracy. The fact of the matter is that the Labour ministers are the only ones in charge of all that."

He said testing "wasn't going fine", surveillance "wasn't going on" and the "oversight and scrutiny that should have been done by the military was not happening". 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern responded in Parliament on Wednesday by saying she "stands proudly" on the Government's record on fighting COVID-19. 

"We should all be proud of the efforts of New Zealanders in this global pandemic, because whilst it surges globally, we have continued to take a process of elimination that puts us in the best position to protect New Zealanders' health and the best position for our economy to recover."

Health Minister Chris Hipkins highlighted what he saw as New Zealand's success. 

"We are one of the few countries in the world that went for 100 days without having any community transmission and we've managed to get on top of this reasonably quickly and ease restrictions as quickly as we possibly can," he said.

"There is no such thing as a 100 percent full-proof COVID-19 response. It's a virus at the end of the day and we continue to learn and we continue to do everything we can to remove and reduce residual risk. But there will always be some risk."

From right, Chris Hipkins, Winston Peters, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
From right, Chris Hipkins, Winston Peters, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub.

Hipkins added, "I don't agree with him, no."

ACT leader David Seymour said Peters' comments suggest he has "conceded that he's been completely impotent" inside Cabinet.

"Peters today condemned his own Government's response to COVID-19. But he is one of seven members of the COVID-19 Cabinet Committee and the Deputy Prime Minister," Seymour said. 

"It's unsurprising his ideas haven't been taken seriously inside the Cabinet. Winston Peters is yesterday's man."

Peters released NZ First's border policy last month, which suggested shifting quarantine to military facilities to reduce costs and proposed a new 'Border Protection Force' which would report to a single senior Cabinet minister. 

"Patchwork responses and blurred responsibilities must be rejected," he said at the time. "Clear lines of accountability will be drawn-up, speed of response will be measured, and most importantly accountability measures established."

David Seymour.
David Seymour. Photo credit: Parliament TV

The Government has fiercely hit back at suggestions Auckland's COVID-19 cluster came from the border, after Newshub revealed more than 60 percent of border-facing workers had not been tested the week before the latest outbreak, falling short of Cabinet's approved testing strategy. 

Testing of border-facing workers is now mandatory, and an additional 500 defence personnel are being deployed to managed isolation facilities and quarantine facilities to strengthen protections against community COVID-19 spread. 

Peters suggested on Wednesday Defence Minister Ron Mark, a New Zealand First MP, should have been more involved in the COVID-19 response. 

"If my ministers, if the minister of defence had been involved - and we had put them out there on defence bases where they should have been, then they wouldn't have had a chance to infect the country's largest population base, namely Auckland." 

The Ministry of Health has indicated that MIQ facilities need to be close to large hospitals which are mostly found in urban areas.