Jacinda Ardern claims COVID-19 Christmas comment has been 'misinterpreted', clarifies at press conference

  • 21/12/2022

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern claims a comment she made about the upcoming Christmas and summer period being the first "where we haven't had COVID hanging over us" has been "misinterpreted".

The comment, published earlier in December by New Zealand's Woman's Weekly, raised eyebrows given cases have been trending upwards in recent weeks. 

"The one thing that will be the same for everyone is this will be the first Christmas and summer holiday in three years where we haven't had COVID hanging over us," she told the magazine.

"We had a couple of Christmases there where we managed to stay relatively open and operating, but it was still there in the back of everyone's mind - would there be disruption?"

On Monday, the Ministry of Health confirmed 42,740 new cases had been recorded over the past week.

Asked on Wednesday if she continued to stand by that remark, Ardern suggested it had been "slightly misinterpreted". She said it was a recognition that New Zealand's approach to COVID has changed relative to previous years.

"This is the first summer where there hasn't been the risk of border closures, gathering limits, cancellations of large-scale events. We do, however, continue to have COVID amongst us," she said. 

"It is not the case that we do not continue to take very seriously the impacts of this illness and work very hard to make sure people who need, for instance, antivirals, who should have booster immunisation or the public health advice doesn't continue to be shared, it does." 

She doesn't believe the Government or the public have become complacent in tackling COVID-19.

In September, the Government announced the end to New Zealand's traffic light system and most mask requirements. Ardern at the time said, "rather than feeling that COVID dictates what happens to us, our lives, and our futures, we take back control".

About a month later, the Government ditched a number of powers available to it, such as the ability to impose lockdowns or vaccine mandates.

Over the past two summers, the Government has had the ability to impose such restrictions and had frameworks, like the traffic light system, in place.

Ardern on Wednesday said that while people are still being hospitalised with COVID-19, the health system isn't being put under pressure by other illnesses. The combination of COVID-19 and the winter flu caused significant strain for hospitals earlier this year.

"Not saying we are complacent about that. We continue to urge people, particularly if you have significant events in mind, if you have concerns around the health and wellbeing of other family members, masks continue to be a very useful tool."

She said people, particularly those in vulnerable groups, should be aware of how to access anti-virals over the summer.

COVID-19 Response Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall earlier this week said New Zealand's settings wouldn't change following a final review before the summer break. 

"That includes the retention of seven-day mandatory isolation for positive cases, in order to break the chain of transmission and keep cases and hospitalisations at a manageable level," Dr Verrall said.

She said masks, RATs and vaccines continued to be accessible at locations across the country, with tests available to be ordered online and over the phone as well. 

"Ahead of summer, we are encouraging New Zealanders to take simple precautions to keep a lid on COVID-19 and ensure our hard-working health workers get the break they deserve."