Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says it's "really unfair" to describe her latest 1pm COVID-19 media appearance as electioneering.
Opposition parties expressed annoyance on Monday after Ardern talked about the economy before revealing Auckland would join the rest of the country at alert level 1 on Thursday. After the announcement during the question-and-answer session with reporters, she criticised National and ACT's border and housing policies.
"It's deeply disappointing that Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has continued to politicise the COVID-19 response," ACT leader David Seymour said afterwards.
"Ardern today delivered an important public health announcement to the nation as the Prime Minister and then immediately began campaigning for the Labour Party. The Prime Minister should have spent more time preparing our defences so a single outbreak didn't require two months of damaging restrictions instead of lecturing us from the podium."
National leader Judith Collins asked on Twitter how it was "okay" for Ardern to "use her 1pm COVID spot to criticise National's housing policy and to misrepresent National's border policy? Hats anyone? Which one today?"
Ardern told The AM Show on Tuesday there was nothing wrong with "acknowledging the work that people have done".
"I think that's really unfair. Yesterday in context, those statements that I was making is that New Zealanders should feel proud of the position that every single person - every single person - has got us to. That there are tough times ahead, but there are actually things that people like our exporters have been doing, of course consenting - so those in construction are doing to aid our recovery."
The AM Show host Duncan Garner asked whether the alert level decision needed to be preceded by a speech about the state of the economy.
"One of the criteria we have to factor in when we make our decision is the impact on the economy," said Ardern.
"What we're pointing out is that actually the alert level framework allows us to keep operating at different levels... I would point out I doubt very much you would claim it was electioneering if things weren't going well. In fact, we've had to make hard decisions when we have hit tough spots on behalf of New Zealand by putting politics aside in the decisions that we're making around the management of this pandemic.
I stand by every decision we've made - not for the politics of it, but because it's been right for New Zealand. Yes, we happen to be in the middle of a campaign - but that will not stop me from making decisions that I believe are in the best interest of New Zealanders.
By eliminating local transmission of the virus earlier this year, and through large-scale borrowing, New Zealand got its economy mostly back up and running, with spending largely back up to normal during level 1. The country is technically in a recession - the deepest in history - but there are hopes it'll be a short one, with predictions of a record bounceback in the coming months.
Voting is underway in the election, but campaigning is still ongoing - Ardern saying she'll be back to shaking hands from Thursday, after a "lot of elbow-bumping" under levels 2 and 3.