Jacinda Ardern smacks down suggestion New Zealand to move to alert level 2.5 when borders open

The Prime Minister has smacked down any suggestion New Zealand will move to alert level 2.5 when borders open.

Speaking on Thursday, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said having as many people vaccinated as possible was key to New Zealand opening its borders. But he also wants to see the country lift its public health behaviours "as part of our move to open up to a wider group of low-risk countries, let alone beyond that".

He went on to say that New Zealand may need to be at "more of a 2.5 level as our baseline, alongside vaccination, as part of the protections we need in place to be able to open the border". 

In the past, such as back in August, alert level 2.5 has meant social gatherings are limited to 10 people, hospitality venues can't serve groups of larger than 10 people and aged-care facilities have to operate at very strict settings.

But Jacinda Ardern has now clarified Dr Bloomfield's comments, saying on Friday that he meant we needed to lift our game on tools like QR scanning and the type of behaviour needed would more closely resemble alert level 1.5.

She said the Director-General wasn't suggesting we would need to "impose a consistent scale of restrictions".

Dr Bloomfield's Thursday comments concerned the ACT Party, which said on Friday that Kiwis deserved more certainty, as well as honesty and transparency.

"We're aware there are unknowns when it comes to COVID, we just want to be treated like adults, taken into the Government’s confidence about how they’ll be dealt with. What is the plan?" leader David Seymour said.

While New Zealand has opened a two-way travel bubble with Australia and is poised to on Monday with the Cook Islands, our border remains closed to most other foreigners as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc overseas. 

At a pre-Budget speech in Auckland on Thursday, the Prime Minister said that while the vaccine rollout in New Zealand is "incomplete, the number of countries we can safely open up to is limited". 

"That's because they need to hold the same status as us, or pose the same low risk of bringing COVID into the country."

Ardern said New Zealand could possibly open up to some vaccinated foreigners before our campaign is finished. But there are two things to consider. 

"Firstly, we will be relying heavily on emerging evidence about how effective vaccines are in preventing not just symptoms of the disease, but transmission between vaccinated individuals," the Prime Minister said. 

She said early data was promising, but "no vaccine is fail safe", noting that New Zealand has recently had an example of a vaccinated border worker contracting COVID-19. 

"The second consideration alongside vaccine efficacy is the question of COVID variants," Ardern said. 

"At this stage Pfizer is holding up well, but our reopening plan will need the flexibility to continue highlighting and responding rapidly to countries where variants emerge that might pose a risk to the immunity we’ve built up in New Zealand, or are working to build up.

"That’s why, as work continues internationally on vaccine passports, New Zealand will remain actively involved in those discussions, while also considering other tools for managing and monitoring risk at the border."