Jacinda Ardern admits New Zealand made it to alert level 1 earlier than expected, hints at Pacific Islands travel

The AM Show 09/06/2020

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says a travel corridor with the Pacific Islands is on the cards but New Zealand will still be "rigorous at the border". 

Nations such as the Cook Islands and Niue are being considered after a trans-Tasman bubble blueprint is made. 

Speaking to The AM Show on Tuesday, Ardern says moving to alert level 1 has happened earlier than expected and caution is still needed.

The move to alert level 1 begs the question of when New Zealand can ease some border restrictions with Australia. The idea of a Trans-Tasman bubble has been floating for more than a month, and pressure is building from the likes of the tourism industry and Opposition politicians.

"At the moment we just need to make sure they're [Australia] in a similar position to us in terms of how they're tracking for cases," Ardern said on Tuesday.

"We have to make sure that we feel that we are not losing any of our gains by making the decisions that we're making - different [Australian] states are in different positions at the moment.

"We're working on a framework at the moment that would help us not just with Australia, because we might need to make these decisions with other countries in the future."

There have also been calls to allow movement to other countries free of COVID-19 such as the Cook Islands and Taiwan. Ardern said that the framework needs to be ready to go first.

"We're working on some of that criteria," she said.

"I think New Zealanders wouldn't want to jeopardise where we are and put ourselves back into levels of restrictions because we haven't been rigorous at the border, so we will be rigorous at the border."

But Ardern said Samoa isn't seeking a travel relationship with New Zealand.

"Samoa would need to want to [open] and at this point - they have had experience with measle outbreaks and so they're taking a very cautious approach.

"Other Pacific Island nations, yes we would love to see whether or not we're in similar positions. Places like Cook Islands [and] Niue look to have been COVID free - you would assume, of course, that we would be looking in that direction."

"We also have to make sure that we're getting all of the border settings right - [there's] quite a lot of logistical work to do on the ground and that's what we're working on at the moment."

Events, public transport, and hospitality can all resume as normal on Tuesday as the country wakes up to alert level 1.

Ardern announced the move to level 1 on Monday, ending nearly three months of domestic restrictions.  

But she warned the pandemic is still here.

"Did I think we would get here? Well, that was always the plan but it is earlier than I think most of us thought we would be able to get here," Ardern said.

"We had always planned, though, to go hard, go early and try and get to normality as quickly as we possibly could.

"It did progress more quickly than we thought it would so that's positive. The one point I'd also make, though - this pandemic is still with us," she said, pointing to the number of new cases still accumulating in other parts of the world.

Despite a move to alert level 1, Ardern said it's "very very very" likely there will be cases in New Zealand again, despite no known active infections left in the country. NZ is currently on a 17 day run of no new cases.

But it's "not failure" if new infections arise, she said.

"That is just part of our going elimination campaign," Ardern told The AM Show.