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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she wishes the Government could have "brought more people with us" on its response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In an in-depth interview with Newstalk ZB this morning, Ardern looked back on two years of handling the pandemic and forecast New Zealand's potential path out of the pandemic.
Ardern spoke about what she believed New Zealand got right and wrong in its response to the pandemic so far.
She said given the Government was working with imperfect, ever-changing information, it was right to close its borders in March 2020 – against the advice of the World Health Organisation. That crucial decision gave New Zealanders relative freedom for a long period of time, she said.
"And it was very hard for everyone, but the alternative would have been Covid circulating without a vaccine."
Asked what she got wrong in the Covid response, Ardern said: "I do wish that we could have come through these latter stages … bringing more people with us.
"I don't know what the answer to that is, but … I would have preferred that we would have been able to do that. How, I haven't quite landed on, because again the flipside was probably more generic restrictions affecting more people rather than targeted ones that affected a few.
"But I'll probably think about that for a long time."
The Prime Minister said one of the benefits of the public's "close proximity" to MPs in New Zealand was that she always knew when people were disagreeing with her or her Government's policies.
"There will be times that we make a decision that people do not agree with. And the most important thing is that as long as we are doing it because we believe it's the right thing to do.
"I won't have always got it right, but at the time I've always made the decisions that I thought have been in the best interests."
Ardern was asked about how she personally dealt with the pain and heartache caused by some of the Government's Covid-19 measures: border restrictions, preventing family from attending funerals, and job losses caused by vaccine mandates.
"One of our critical advisers through this, who's from the science community, mentioned to me the other day that on their calculation, give or take possibly 5000 people have been saved by what we had done.
"So, in those moments I think of that. Now those 5000 people, they don't know who they are. They don't know that it was them that has been potentially protected by these measures. But I just keep that in my mind. It's been hard, but the flipside would have been even more painful."
Cabinet will this week discuss when vaccine mandates and other Covid measures could be wound down.
Ardern said with just 190,000 eligible people not vaccinated and many of them exposed to Covid already, New Zealand would be able to move away from mandates and "put them back in the toolbox".
She was asked whether New Zealand might revert to stricter measures again if there was another outbreak. She said another variant which the vaccine was not effective against, and caused people to be "gravely ill", would be a "game changer" for the whole world and not just New Zealand.
"At the point, everything's different for everybody. But for us, we're very much in line now with other countries' approaches."
She anticipated people would adjust to the major changes brought about by Covid as they had for another world-shaping event, the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Ardern was a student at Arizona State University in 2001.
"I still remember the different when I travelled to the US pre-9/11 and when I left. And it felt like nothing would be the same ever again.
"And yet over time that just became integrated into the way we did things. We barely would notice now that at airports we fundamentally have a different experience than we used to.
"And I think the same will be said for this pandemic. There will be parts of the way we live that will change forever. But we will also acclimatise to that.
"It might be in the future that alongside biosecurity measures we have some health screening measures at our airports. And we may in the long run be better off ... but we also probably will stop noticing."
- by Isaac Davison, NZ Herald