Covid 19 coronavirus: Jacinda Ardern admits ‘holding my breath’ as Kiwis enjoyed summer

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is giving her first public address of the year, speaking to her caucus colleagues and media at Labour’s annual retreat in Nelson.

Ardern has kicked off Labour’s first caucus meeting of 2021 saying it was great to see everybody again after a decent break. The caucus is meeting in Nelson, with families.

She acknowledged that Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has not quite had the same break as everybody else.

Ardern said it had taken her a while to “get into holiday mode”.

“This year it took me a little bit longer, and I think it’s because in hindsight I was slightly holding my breath,” she told Labour MPs.

“That was a mark of 2020. We wanted so much for New Zealanders to get the holiday they all deserved, yet we know with a virus it’s so hard to keep … the restriction-free living we have.

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

She said people were realising just how difficult it was to handle Covid-19 overseas, as various strains of the virus sprang up.

“We already had a level of standards and infection control inNew Zealand that was high.”

However, the changes in the virus had resulted in the Government introducing pre-departure testing as a further measure.

Ardern ran through the pre-departure testing rules, and the systems in place in the quarantine and MIQ facilities.

“Our job is to keep applying that vigilance in 2021. Our job is to get us through the worst health and economic crisis we have seen.”

She said it was the “year of the vaccine” – and that would take the entire year.

“Our goal has to be to get the management of Covid-19 similarly as we do for the flu.”

Covid-19 would not disappear, but the goal was to have an annual vaccination programme similar to the flu.

In the shorter term, the focus was on the border and MIQ workers. By mid-year she hoped to move to a broader vaccination programme among the public, followed by a further broadening later in the year.

However, Covid-19 was not the only focus.

“While our focus on Covid will be constant, we all know the reason we came into politics were many reasons we didn’t encounter last year.”

She said she did not want the other challenges to be “a bit part” of the Labour Government’s programme – referring to housing, the environment, the climate and children.

Ardern said the economy was a big priority: “The recovery has even surprised many of us. It has been exceptional. But that has been by design.”

The reason for going “hard and early” was to help ensure the economy could recover fast.

She would set out Labour’s housing policy later today. “We have a rolling agenda addressing the action that is required to make sure we fulfil the carbon budgets that will be coming our way later this year.”

“None of us want those issues we feel so strongly about top be sidelined by the pandemic. So our job is to ensure we stay on top of it, along with the team of five million.”

Today’s speech comes as Ardern this morning promised to fix New Zealand’s housing crisis.

She unveiled new details of her Government’s state housing plan, specifically the regions which will benefit from the Government’s state housing plans.

The big winners are Northland, Hamilton, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Napier, Hastings, Palmerston North and Whanganui.

Details as to how the 8000 will be split between these regions will be unveiled at a later date.

Her address to Labour’s caucus marks the start of Labour’s annual caucus meeting, this year held in Nelson.

The retreat is usually held at Brackenridge in Martinborough but, according to the party’s Chief Whip Kieran McAnulty, Labour’s caucus is too big to fit in that venue.

The summer annual retreat is how both major political parties start the year – it’s usually the first opportunity party leaders have to set out their agendas.

As well as her speech this morning, Ardern will later today front a press conference with her Housing Minister, Megan Woods.

Ardern is likely to be asked about the inauguration of income US President, Joe Biden.

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