Jacinda Ardern says she has friends and family who can't come home, but stopped short of apologising for the difficulty Kiwis have had booking spaces in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ).
MIQ has a capacity of about 4000, each person coming through spending at least 14 days cut off from the rest of the country to ensure they don't bring COVID-19 in. But with many spots being taken up by foreign groups and seats being snapped up the second they appear - some by people using bots - Kiwis stranded overseas as the Delta variant rages are getting frustrated.
The problem has been exacerbated by the closure of the trans-Tasman travel bubble, which was expected to free up about 1000 places, and the cohorting of arrivals to prevent the spread of the virus between arrivals.
The Prime Minister appeared on The Project on Thursday night, and was told to answer a series of questions with a single word - either 'yes' or 'no'. Asked if she would comply, Ardern laughed and said no.
After a few questions about the vaccine, comedian Dai Henwood asked her if she "would apologise to Kiwis who couldn't get an MIQ spot".
Visibly uncomfortable, Ardern hesitated then said no.
"It's the price of keeping everyone safe. But that's not to say that I - you want yes or no? That one's hard. I have huge empathy. I've got friends and family affected by it too.
"But unfortunately the system is there for a reason, and it is protecting people, so," she said, shrugging her shoulders.
The awkwardness didn't end there. Host Jeremy Corbett asked the Prime Minister if once the rest of Kiwis had got their jabs, the port workers would get theirs.
Ardern threw her head back, laughing, without answering right away. Dozens of port workers were allowed onto a COVID-riddled ship that recently docked in Tauranga despite being unvaccinated.
"They were amongst the first in the queue," she eventually said, chuckling.
From August 26 Government employed port workers will have to have at least one dose, or they'll need to find a job elsewhere. Private employees will need theirs by September 30.
Elsewhere in the interview, Ardern talked about the Government's plan to start reopening the border, including the use of home self-isolation, rather than in MIQ, for low-risk travellers.
A trial will be held later this year. Ardern said it will only be rolled out if the trial shows it works. To participate in the trial, travellers will need to be vaccinated, be able to isolate on their own or others they travelled with, and be able to make it from the airport to their place of isolation without contact with anyone else. Ankle bracelets may also be used to ensure people are staying put.
Ardern said there will only be a "limited number" of people who will qualify for the trial.
"We will only ever use a tool in our reopening that we consider to be effective and that we consider to have low-risk," she said.
"This is one of the reasons we want to pilot this approach to answer some of those questions - to make sure we can test people safely and successfully from their homes, that we can have appropriate enforcement to ensure the rules are being followed... and how do we make sure that people are able to care for themselves across a two-week period without having contact with others."
What systems are eventually rolled out next year will also depend on how well the vaccines are working and what new variants may emerge, she said.