20 Mar 2020

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern: 'We have an obligation to let NZers come home'

7:31 pm on 20 March 2020

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the government has worked to protect Air New Zealand's services so New Zealanders can get home and essential flights can continue.

Watch the full Checkpoint interview with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern here:

She told Checkpoint MFAT was working through what needs were required by New Zealanders and whether mercy flights will be offered.

She said: "We have an obligation to let New Zealanders come home."

Ardern said as part of the $900 million government loan to Air New Zealand,""we will be able to keep essential flights going, including ensuring Kiwis can return home".

On whether the military would be needed to help fly New Zealanders home from overseas, Ardern said MFAT was still working through what is needed.

For the potentially thousands of New Zealanders returning home, Ardern said quarantining them in a place like the Whangaparaoa base would not be practical.

"We have an obligation to let New Zealanders come home… I've seen people talking about their experience at the border now - being constantly questioned about where they're south isolating, Air New Zealand keeping people separate when they're returning… so they can then self-isolate in their homes.

"It is at a scale where that is the most practical response. We've been doing spot checks using the police to make sure that's where they are."

The government had tried to be "very pre-emptive" on restrictions, Ardern said.

"We've tried to stay ahead of what might happen with our cases. We will keep looking to do that. I really want to implore people - be prepared to work from home, be prepared to avoid non-essential travel.

"If we move into a phase of where we've got outbreaks in different parts of New Zealand, we should all be prepared for that. But we do have the ability to respond regionally.

"If we have community outbreaks in different parts of the country, then you might see an escalation to that kind of response."

But there is no evidence New Zealand currently has community transmission, Ardern said.

"There's a couple of different things we have to consider with schools.

"The model we're taking with mass gatherings... It's the same model that's been used in countries that have been pretty successful in managing Covid-19 - that is to date, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan. What they've done with schools is where they've had a case connected to a school, then they shut down.

"In Dunedin when we had a case connected, we shut the school down, we did that for 72 hours. That gives you enough time to contact trace."

Ardern also said evidence shows Covid-19 does not survive on a surface for 72 hours, so with cleaning, a 72-hour shutdown ensured schools were safe.

"We'll be managing Covid around the world for potentially months, so we have to think in that frame of mind, and how we can sustain our response."

Ardern said based on the current trajectory the Olympics seem unlikely.

She also said she has no intention of changing New Zealand's election date.

If she gets a cold, the Prime Minister said she will do the same thing she's asking everyone to do - restricting contact with others.

"I'm setting up provisions so that I can work from anywhere… It'll be pretty hard to keep me wherever I am from doing my job."

Today, the Ministry of Health confirmed there are new cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus in New Zealand, bringing the total to 39.

There have been a range of developments today, including supermarkets begging customers to shop normally and Air NZ's chief executive Greg Foran announcing the airline will continue to reduce staff, despite the government's $900 million loan bailout during the Covid-19 crisis.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the RNZ Auckland studio for Morning Report. 30 October 2017.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

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