'A game-changer': Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on the hunt for a Covid-19 vaccine

Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 26 May 2020, 2:29PM
The Prime Minister described a potential vaccine as a "game-changer" for the world. (Photo / Supplied)
The Prime Minister described a potential vaccine as a "game-changer" for the world. (Photo / Supplied)

'A game-changer': Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on the hunt for a Covid-19 vaccine

Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 26 May 2020, 2:29PM

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says a Covid-19 vaccine would be a "game-changer" for the world.

The Government today announced a $37 million funding boost for a coronavirus vaccine.

Asked about a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Government's handling of the Covid crisis, Ardern said it was still "early days" as the fight against Covid-19 was ongoing.

She will face Todd Muller for the first time as National leader in Question Time today, but Ardern brushed it off as "an hour" in the day.

Covid-19 free transtasman bubble

She said she spoke to her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison this morning.

They reaffirmed the commitment to working on a transtasman Covid-free bubble.

"We are both at a phase of opening up, or easing restrictions ... in the meantime, we're getting our borders ready."

But she was cautious about putting a timeline on a transtasman bubble.

But it would only happen if it could be done so safely, she added.

Two-year anniversary of M. bovis fight

Over 150,000 cattle have been culled in the two-year fight against M. bovis.

Ardern said the Government's success in battling the rural disease had enhanced New Zealand's brand overseas.

"The beef and dairy sectors are the backbone of the country ... and just like with Covid, going hard and early to beat M. bovis has paid dividends for us.

There were 17 properties with M. bovis as of May 20, according to Biosecurity NZ. Each of them is under quarantine control.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said the decision to eradicate M. bovis was something other countries had not tried.

"We're looking harder and finding fewer infected animals," O'Connor said.

The decision to eradicate was made jointly with the farming sector, he said, and if M. bovis had run rampant, the exporting of dairy products throughout the Covid crisis would not have been possible.

"Although there is still a long way to go, our farming community should be really proud of themselves."

O'Connor said M. bovis was a "long programme" and the foot cannot be taken off the pedal, and getting rid of it was a 10-year project.

He said over 150,00 cattle had been culled so far.

He said some fines had been imposed and five warning letters sent to farmers who had not been compliant.

No new cases

Today there were no new cases of Covid 19, the fourth day in a row of no new cases.

There are now only 22 active cases in New Zealand, including one person in hospital.

Kiwis face at least four more weeks of physical distancing obligations and limits on social gatherings at alert level 2, but from Friday midday will be able to have 100 people at weddings and funerals - as well as private parties.

Ardern said yesterday that the low number of new Covid-19 cases, including only three in the past fortnight, allowed the current 10-person limit on gatherings and 50-person limit on funerals and tangi to be eased.

But instead of increasing the limit in stages, as Australia is doing, Ardern said it could jump straight to 100 from Friday.

Ardern also revealed that New Zealand would remain at alert level 2 for at least four more weeks.

Cabinet will review the level 2 settings on June 8 - but will not consider whether the country is ready to move to level 1 until June 22.

If ready, New Zealanders would be given a few days' notice before the alert level was to drop.

The move this Friday to lifting to 100 the mass-gathering limit is likely to be welcomed by event organisers, churches, wedding planners and funeral directors who have all been stymied by the alert level restrictions to date.

Ardern clarified that the three Ss - seated, single server, and separation - will still apply for bars and restaurants to reduce mixing and mingling with strangers, meaning public dance floors will still have to remain empty.

But private parties with dance floors have been given the green light, where physical distancing rules will be effectively reduced to guidelines rather than obligations.

Asked about people planning a party for Friday night, Ardern said: "Keep a list of who you've invited."

The current settings under alert level 1 have no restrictions on social gatherings, and no obligations - only an encouragement - for physical distancing. Border restrictions will continue.