Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern defends allowing cosmetic botox visits in Auckland but not haircuts

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is fine with cosmetic botox appointments going ahead in Auckland, but not haircuts, because it's "impossible to physically distance". 

ACT leader David Seymour asked Ardern in Parliament on Tuesday why clinics have been approved to provide botox procedures under alert level 3, step 2 settings coming into force in Auckland on Wednesday, but not haircuts. 

"Will she visit any hairdressers tomorrow and explain that to them?" Seymour asked, referring to the Prime Minister's visit to Auckland on Wednesday - her first since the city was locked down more than two months ago. 

"Obviously at this stage, you're right that hairdressers have not been operating because they are what is defined as close personal services," Ardern said. 

"For any service where it's actually impossible to physically distance, the member will obviously appreciate that increases risk.

"Auckland has now reached 90 percent first doses. It's our expectation therefore that it's within their sights three weeks from that point to be at 90 percent double doses and we've already said that's the point we'll move into the new COVID Protection Framework which enables those businesses to operate at every level."

The Government's new COVID-19 Protection Framework, or 'traffic light' system, was announced last month to replace the alert levels. 

It comes into force once 90 percent of the eligible population is vaccinated across each District Health Board. But since Auckland has been in lockdown for months and is close to reaching the target, it could enter the traffic light framework sooner. 

Once it comes into force, what freedoms people have will be determined by vaccine certificates. For example, when Auckland enters the 'red' light, hospitality venues can open with up to 100 fully vaccinated people, but businesses that choose not to use vaccine certificates must remain contactless. 

In the meantime, Auckland is still progressing through the alert level steps Ardern announced last month. Under step 2, retail will open their doors, public facilities such as pools and zoos will open, and the number of people who can meet outdoors will increase to 25.

At step 3, hospitality venues can reopen, but a date has not been given for when that could happen. And even when step 2 does come into effect, guests will still have to be seated, separated and with a limit of 50.

Seymour asked Ardern why it's safer for people to go into a supermarket to buy food for a picnic or barbeque than it is to dine outdoors at a restaurant in Auckland. 

"All the way through the COVID pandemic you'll see that we have treated hospitality differently to retail and it's because globally, you can see that those areas where you do tend to see outbreaks and spread are in those environments that are considered to be high risk and very unfortunately that has been the hospitality sector," Ardern said. 

"What we've tried to design with the COVID Protection Framework is an environment where using the tools we have, including public health measures but also the use of vaccines, to give greater certainty to those businesses so they are able to stay open more consistently versus the environment we've had in the past where we have seen closures.

"New Zealand has not been alone in that. I understand that in parts of Canada they've only just now returned to those businesses being able to fully operate after over a year so we are not alone in those being treated as high-risk environments."

Seymour also asked why parts of Waikato were moved into alert level 3, step 2, a week before Auckland, when the region's vaccination rate is lower. 

"Simply the scale and nature of the outbreak that both are dealing with," Ardern said. 

"In the Waikato, what we are clear on is that this is an outbreak with a clearly long tail on it and at the present point in time the vast bulk of those cases have been linked cases, but you can see the spread through wider parts of Waikato that continue to emerge.

"Contrast that with Auckland. That has been an outbreak that has been projected to grow. We've been very open about that.

"But increasing vaccination rates give us the confidence to, regardless of that outbreak, continue to ease restrictions, starting with the safest restrictions first, with the ultimate goal being the point at which we reach 90 percent double vaccinated, which is when we can flip into a point where business has certainty at every single level and we'll be able to operate at every single level."