Coronavirus: Jacinda Ardern denies Clarke Gayford knew Cabinet alert level decision before public

The Prime Minister is rejecting accusations her fiancé knew Cabinet's alert level decision prior its announcement on Friday.

The Government has come under criticism after ministers met on Thursday evening to review Auckland's alert levels, but waited until just before midday on Friday to make an announcement. Business owners and event organisers say revealing the decision on Thursday would have provided more time to prepare for the busy weekend and reduce anxiety and uncertainty.

On Friday morning, prior to the announcement, Jacinda Ardern's fiancé Clarke Gayford tweeted that Cabinet had made an "in-principle decision" but that it was pending final test results. That tweet led to accusations online that Gayford had been given a heads-up.

"What a mess. Govt said yesterday they've made decision about AKL level changes but we have to wait til 11.30am today," tweeted National's COVID-19 Response spokesperson Chris Bishop.

"Meanwhile PM's partner is tweeting about how it's only in principle pending final test results. Nice of PM to share it with him but could she tell the country too?"

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Ardern denied Gayford was briefed on the Government decision, arguing that he was simply relaying information which was already in the public domain. 

"He has not known the decision. He has known the process which is exactly what ministers conveyed in the public domain. Minister Parker, I imagine, probably would have been questioned, even minister Nash last night talked about the process."

Labour minister David Parker was on The AM Show on Friday morning minutes after Gayford tweeted. He said the COVID-19 situation was "looking good" and confirmed an "in-principle decision" had been made.

"We took the in-principle decision but we wait for the latest data, which will come out this morning, and if there is bad news in there, we might have to revisit it," Parker told The AM Show.

On Thursday, ahead of Cabinet's meeting, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said that a "final decision" may not be made by ministers that night. 

"It is about making sure that we have all of the right information, that everything is being followed-up, that if there are any additional issues that people need information on before that final button gets pushed, that we have that. We will make an announcement as soon as we are able to," Hipkins told reporters. 

Ardern said there had not been a breach of the Cabinet manual, which is a sort of rulebook for ministers. It states that Executive Council meetings are confidential. 

"Everyone knew we had a Cabinet meeting yesterday afternoon because I talked about it. I talked about the fact that some of these decisions would be made but we would be making an announcement the next day. That is information in the public domain and it is by no means a breach of any Cabinet manual and it is exactly what ministers would have conveyed."

Ardern said she hadn't seen Gayford since Thursday and stressed he hadn't been briefed on matters.

"I really reject the implication. I think what he has taken off his own bat to rebut is the suggestion that we have had a decision we have had sat on. That is information we were sharing since yesterday, the process we were following." 

Among those critical of the Government waiting until Friday to make an announcement is ACT Party leader David Syemour. He said it showed ministers were "oblivious to the realities of running a business; things like the logistics of ordering food, arranging staff, giving staff the opportunity to arrange their lives".

"Aucklanders have been through enough without the pantomime of the Prime Minister's endless set piece announcements where they'll be told to be kind and wash their hands before learning whether they can go out and try to earn a crust again."

Prime Minister Ardern on Friday tried to defend the decision to not make an announcement until Friday by saying the Government required more information before giving the greenlight.

She said the Government wanted to make sure there were no new community cases - which there weren't - and that results of the day 12 testing of some remaining close contacts of one of the cases came back negative, which they did. These close contacts were already in isolation. 

It has also now been 14-days - a full transmission cycle - since Case M went to a populated gym, a potential exposure event. No one from the gym has tested positive. 

Case M was the positive case that prompted Auckland's return to lockdown on February 28.

Ardern said the Director-General of Health had advised Cabinet he considered the outbreak contained. That provided justification for moving Auckland to alert level 1 on Friday.