COVID-19: Jacinda Ardern responds to National's plan to reopen New Zealand to the world

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand's hard border will stay as it is for the time being, fearing opening up too quickly could jeopardise domestic restrictions.

Ardern is confident New Zealanders will have freedoms over the summer and says the Government is maintaining its plan to review border restrictions early next year. 

"Our priority is New Zealanders having the best summer possible and that does mean working very hard to get our vaccine rates up to work on a framework that takes into account vaccination, and that moves away from lockdowns," Ardern told reporters on Tuesday when asked if she would commit to allowing people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to return home before Christmas.

"Anything else that you add into the mix too soon and before you're well-prepared could risk summer so we want to prioritise getting those domestic settings right for people, so they can have the kind of break they had last year - and then progressively move on the border in the first quarter of 2022. That's been our long-stated plan.

"Our border arrangements stay as they are while we're vaccinating New Zealanders."

Ardern's comments came after National Party leader Judith Collins foreshadowed a COVID-19 plan for opening New Zealand up to the world, which is due to be released on Wednesday. Without revealing too many details, Collins said the goal of her party's plan was to reunite as many families as possible. 

"Our plan will end the isolationist approach of the Government and give Kiwis hope."

Under questioning from ACT leader David Seymour in Parliament on Tuesday, Ardern was asked if the Government would consider its COVID-19 vaccine rollout "over" once 90 percent of New Zealanders had the opportunity to be fully immunised. Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield set New Zealand's eligible vaccination target at 90 percent earlier this month.

"You are trying to make an assertion that once everyone's had a chance [to be vaccinated], it then comes down to their personal responsibility," Ardern responded.

"But with vaccination, it is just not going to work like that, because if an individual is vaccinated but they still want to be able to access healthcare, then that implies that we don't have an overrun health workforce or overrun hospitals. It implies that you won't have outbreaks somehow, but we know that that won't be the case.

"If we have a proportion of New Zealanders who opt out [of vaccination], we will have outbreaks that will lead to restrictions, and that will impinge on everyone's lives. So it is not a simple equation of 'If you've just had a chance, then unfortunately - game's up and it's all over for everyone,'" the Prime Minister told MPs.

Seymour, who on Tuesday released his party's own COVID-19 plan to reopen New Zealand to the world, said Ardern's comments proved she had "no idea".

David Seymour.
David Seymour. Photo credit: Newshub.

The ACT Party leader echoed comments made by former Prime Minister Sir John Key that New Zealand needed a plan.

"How about Jacinda Ardern saves us all some time and adopts our positive plans today instead of drip-feeding them months after we first proposed them," Seymour said in a statement.

Last month, before the emergence of New Zealand's Delta outbreak, Ardern released a four-phase plan to ease restrictions and reconnect the country over the next six months.