28 Feb 2022

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on government's response to Ukraine, Covid-19

8:52 am on 28 February 2022

Cabinet will discuss and make decisions about the future of border restrictions today, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

Speaking to Morning Report, Ardern said the latest advice to the government from epidemiologist Sir David Skegg and his team - who have been advising the government on how to safely re-open the border - had been received late yesterday.

"We've been very much wanting to make sure that while we're in this period of dealing with Omicron that we're carefully easing up at the border so that we don't necessarily over-burden our health system, but with so many cases in New Zealand now, it makes sense to look at those settings.

"Cabinet will discuss and make decisions today," she said, adding that any decisions reached would be addressed at this afternoon's post-Cabinet press briefing.

The prime minister's comments came as tensions continued to simmer over the government's response to events both domestic and international.

Watch the PM speaking to Morning Report here:

Vaccine mandates also continue to be a sticking point, with the occupation of Parliament grounds entering its fourth week, and the High Court ruling that mandates for police and defence force staff are unlawful.

Ardern said the government was yet to decide whether to appeal Friday's decision but noted that four other court cases related to mandates had been upheld by the High Court.

"On this one, the judge has made the call that they are no longer justified in order to ensure business continuity."

There was no comment within the judgment about whether the mandates were justified at the time they were implemented, Ardern said, adding that police and the Defence Force had asked for the mandate to be applied to them because they had concerns around their business continuity.

"Theirs was a specific order. Health have a different rationale for theirs."

Ardern said the judge was "very explicit" that Friday's judgment wasn't "a judgment on mandates per se or the efficacy and importance of vaccines."

Addressing the country's surging current Covid-19 cases and hospitalisation rates, Ardern said she would not describe the numbers as "unexpected".

The increased use of rapid antigen testing (RATs) was providing a greater sense of the level of confirmed cases in the community, she said.

"Hospitalisations themselves will often tell you whether you're missing cases. But, at the moment, we're not vastly out of whack with what we've seen around the hospitalisation rates in other countries."

Internationally, tough action is being called for against Russia, as hundreds of thousands of people flee Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his military command to put nuclear-armed forces on high alert as Ukrainian fighters defending the city of Kharkiv said they had repelled an attack by invading Russian troops.

Ardern said the government hadn't ruled out looking at implementing an autonomous sanctions regime which would allow New Zealand to implement its own sanctions on Russia, though it wasn't currently on the agenda.

"We have traditionally, of course, worked through those multi-lateral organisations, we've tended to take of course the collective lead of the United Nations in applying where it is New Zealand would enact sanctions."

She said the veto power at the UN Security Council was "problematic".

"We've lobbied for reform on that, so it's fair to say we've tried to enact change."

Other actions against Russia had already been taken by New Zealand, Ardern said, among them travel bans on 80 individuals and export controls orders.

The government was now also considering whether some individuals in Belarus should be added to the travel ban list, she said.

"We're also asking for additional advice on whether or not there's any other acts we should be undertaking or any other measures we should be undertaking that may affect, for instance, Russian investment into New Zealand."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs