Jacinda Ardern 'looking at' visiting Auckland after 10 weeks of lockdown, hard border not 'long-term'

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is "looking at" visiting Auckland after 10 weeks of lockdown and has confirmed the city's border is not expected to be "long-term". 

National leader Judith Collins asked Ardern in Parliament on Wednesday when she will travel to the city to "see for herself the impact that 71 days of continuous lockdown is having on Aucklanders".

Ardern confirmed it was something she's considering, but has reservations about leaving Wellington at a time when the Government is making significant decisions regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"I take that as support from the Opposition for me to not be present here for a time because that has been one of my concerns. If I were to do that I then run the risk of not being present in this House and available as I'm called upon to be available for the ongoing scrutiny of the press as well," Ardern said. 

"It is something we've given consideration to. One thing I would say is that equally, I would need to make sure that I'm following all the rules in Auckland. Most of the meetings I'd likely engage in I'm doing remotely here as well with business organisations and our public health providers. 

"But it is something that I'm looking at."

Under Auckland's current alert level 3, step 1 settings, two household bubbles of up to 10 people are allowed to meet outdoors, and some outdoor recreational activities are permitted. 

Collins has been challenging Ardern to visit Auckland for weeks. She told the NZ Herald earlier this month the Prime Minister needed to "get a sense of how other people are feeling". 

MPs are allowed to travel the country, including to and from areas of lockdown such as Auckland and Waikato, but under Speaker Trevor Mallard's rules, they must isolate themselves for five days on return to Wellington before re-entering Parliament. 

Auckland has been in lockdown for 10 weeks.
Auckland has been in lockdown for 10 weeks. Photo credit: Getty Images

Collins herself recently returned to Wellington from Auckland and self-isolated before returning to Parliament. On Twitter, Collins suggested Ardern do the same. 

"After days of questioning, & 10 weeks of lockdown, I'm pleased to say that Jacinda Ardern is now 'considering' visiting Auckland. She is concerned how to do that & return in time for Parliament," Collins wrote. 

"Quite easy, Parliament will be in recess next week, return to Wellington & self isolate for 5 days & have 2 negative tests. Not much to ask while 40 percent of Kiwis endure a likely 4 more weeks of lockdown."

The Government on Friday announced its new COVID Protection Framework, or 'traffic light' system, to replace the alert levels. It comes into force once 90 percent of the eligible population is vaccinated. 

Since Auckland has been in lockdown for months and is close to reaching the target, it could enter the traffic light framework sooner. 

Once the traffic light framework comes into force, vaccination certificates will play a major role in determining what freedoms people have. For example, when Auckland enters the Red light, hospitality venues will be able to open with up to 100 people who are fully vaccinated, but for businesses that choose not to use vaccine certificates, only contactless hospitality will be allowed.

The plan did not include details about when the hard border around Auckland will ease. But Adern said it's not something the Government intends to use long-term. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pictured with Auckland Mayor Phil Goff in June 2021.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pictured with Auckland Mayor Phil Goff in June 2021. Photo credit: Getty Images

"The traffic light system itself doesn't incorporate the use of hard borders. We see the hard border we have at the moment as being a reflection of the transition that we are in presently," she said in Parliament.  

"It is helping to prevent the wider spread areas that are currently COVID-free, which is why we're maintaining it. But it is not in our view something that in the longer term when we're all in the traffic light system is something that is likely to be part of our long-term future."

Ardern couldn't say when the traffic light system would come to an end. 

"I'm not sure that it would necessarily be wise based on what we see with other countries to put an end date on the use of public health measures. 

"I notice that even, for instance, the UK who have tended to be one of the more liberal managers of COVID-19 have still maintained the position that given winter they may yet move to what they've called their Plan B which does bring some public health measures including the possible use of vaccine certificates back. 

"So I do think we would be wise to continue to wait and see what happens over the ongoing trajectory of the pandemic, particularly once countries who are vaccinated with high rates move into a winter period."

Collins has called on the Government to ditch vaccine certificates after 90 percent of the eligible population has been vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Vaccination certificates will fall under current COVID-19 legislation, which needs to be renewed by Parliament periodically, so there is essentially a sunset clause for them.