Jacinda Ardern hits back at claims COVID-19 alert level decision was made the night before

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has hit back at "accusations" Cabinet made the decision to shift Auckland to alert level 1 the night before it was announced. 

Cabinet met on Thursday evening to discuss the alert level settings and National MPs urged the Government to reveal the decisions made instead of making Aucklanders wait until the following morning. 

"Cabinet decision made about lifting the Auckland lockdown. But we are not allowed to know what the decision is until tomorrow to fit the PM's scheduled press conference," National leader Judith Collins said on Twitter. 

"Not good enough."

The Prime Minister said at her 11:30am press conference in Auckland on Friday that Cabinet made a "preliminary" decision the night before, which would go ahead once three additional things were confirmed the following morning. 

She said Cabinet first needed to be certain there were no new community cases of COVID-19 overnight. The Ministry of Health has confirmed there are no new community cases. 

"That's important because it means as of today we've now gone 14 days, or a full transmission cycle, since the last exposure event where we were concerned people could have come in contact with the virus," Ardern said. 

She said Cabinet also needed to see the results of day 12 testing of the last remaining close contacts of Case M, who are in isolation, which all came back negative overnight. 

Case M is the MIT student who tested positive last month after visiting a gym while he was symptomatic, sparking last week's alert level 3 lockdown in Auckland. 

Ardern said there are some remaining day 12 tests for individuals who are already in the quarantine facility and they are due to be tested on Friday. 

She said Cabinet also wanted to be sure there were no community cases beyond the Papatoetoe cluster, to be confident that the virus had not spread in the past 14 days. 

"We said if tomorrow we have these additional pieces of information, including our wider community testing, now that we've gone 14 days we'll feel confident to lift," Ardern said. "So it wasn't just contacts - it was the wider community."

Ardern said there has to be a point when the Government makes the official announcement, and Cabinet tried to move as fast as it could by lifting alert level 2 restrictions in Auckland within half an hour of the confirmation. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that Auckland will shift to alert level 1.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that Auckland will shift to alert level 1. Photo credit: Newshub

"We've actually done something a little unusual here. Usually we take an order through to midnight. When we move to level 1 we don't have to worry so much about the legal orders and so we've actually taken the opportunity to lift as soon as we can," she said. 

"The point is we have to make a decision at some point, so no matter what time we make the decision, someone will say 'why didn't you forewarn us and give us 48 hours' notice?'

"For us, making the decision once we've got the full information, but doing it as soon as we can then give notice of, is getting that balance right. 

"We've made the decision now we have all of the results and we feel confident. We're now lifting at midday; we're not waiting till midnight. Hopefully, doing that as soon as we can provides some comfort that we are acting as quickly as we can."

National MP Chris Bishop described the process as a "mess" after the Prime Minister's fiancé Clarke Gayford defended the Government's decision to wait until 11:30am the day after Cabinet's meeting to tell the public. 

Gayford said on Twitter an in-principle decision had been decided but it was "all pending" on the final test results. 

Ardern told reporters it was "not at all true" that Gayford had inside knowledge of the decision. 

"What he will be reflecting is in the media accusations that have been made that we've made a decision. As I've just said, it was an in-principle decision. That is not correct that he was forewarned of what the decision is," she said. 

"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's information in the public domain and it is by no means a breach of any Cabinet manual. 

"I think for the most part the wider public will appreciate that we've tried to get everything lined up in order to move as quickly as we can."