Covid focus critical, PM Jacinda Ardern reminds MPs

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Jacinda Ardern has demanded “absolute focus” from her Labour MPs in 2021, noting “on-going vigilance” would be required to avoid another Covid outbreak.

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Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The prime minister made her first public address of the year today as Labour’s caucus gathered in Nelson to map out the government’s plan.

Ardern said she was so desperate that New Zealanders get a chance to relax over summer that it took her longer than usual to get into “holiday mode”.

“I was slightly holding my breath,” she told the caucus. “It wasn’t until well after New Year’s I exhaled a little bit knowing that people at least had a break.”

Constant work and vigilance was required to keep restriction-free living in New Zealand, Ardern said.

“That ongoing vigilance is going to be required for 2021 as much as it was in 2020, and even more so.”

Ardern pointed to the recent rollout of pre-departure testing as an example of tougher measures introduced to keep Covid-19 out of the community.

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“Our job is to get us through this year and to get us through the worst health and economic crisis the world has seen in our lifetime.”

Ardern described 2021 as “the year of the vaccine”, but noted that the programme would not happen quickly.

She also cautioned New Zealanders that the virus would not “simply disappear” after one round of vaccination across the population.

“Our goal has to be to put it in a place where, as we do every year with the flu, that we roll out a vaccine programme and maintain a period of normality in between time.”

Border and quarantine workers will be the first in line for vaccines early in the year, with that broadening into the general population beginning mid-year.

Ardern stressed the government would not neglect the other challenges facing the country due to the pandemic.

“The challenge for us as a team will be maintaining that massive work programme around keeping people safe, but also our economic recovery.”

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Finance Minister Grant Robertson will privately brief the caucus on the economic figures later today.

But Ardern said the “headline figures” showed an exceptional recovery.

She said this afternoon she would publicly lay out the government’s “work programme” for housing alongside Housing Minister Megan Woods.

Prior to the speech, the government released new details about its public housing plan, outlining where 8000 previously-announced new state homes would be located.

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