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Jacinda Ardern and radio host Mike Hosking have gone head to head on New Zealand's Covid response, with the Prime Minister insisting our recovery is on track to be better than Australia's.
Despite New Zealand's GDP falling 12 per cent compared to Australia's 7 per cent in the most recent June quarter, Ardern said New Zealand's debt and unemployment levels were lower, and there had been fewer deaths.
Our wage subsidy supported 1.7 million people and businesses had been supported financially faster, she told Hosking on Newstalk ZB today.
Melbourne was also still in a significant lockdown.
"It's a pure matter of opinion... we've still got a way to run. Many times when you and I have discussed New Zealand's approach to Australia, my view has been let's see how things fare when we are out the other side of this."
Hosking played Ardern an audio clip of Australian PM Scott Morrison, talking about the countries' relative GDP performance.
"Why do you think PM Morrison was having to answer that question? Because New Zealand in Australia is compared favourably for its approach," said Ardern.
She told Hosking that he was assuming New Zealand was not going to have a sharper recovery. "If your measure of success is one quarter of GDP, that's for you."
"All the signs are that we are going to have a sharp recovery."
She said there was no cost-free or impact-free response to the pandemic. "There is no economy in the world that either hasn't had a hit to the likes of consumer confidence or a hit to GDP or a hit to debt levels. Relative to other countries, we are more open."
Hosking challenged Ardern on that comment, saying she was "making this up as you go along" - highlighting New South Wales, which had more cases than New Zealand, would have full crowds back at big rugby league games this weekend.
Ardern said NSW had recently had limits on hospitality and gatherings like New Zealand, which is also easing rules as of today.
Ardern: "Mike, if in your view there's a perfect model here, you are welcome to that view."
Hosking: "No you are being too linear. It's not a matter of a perfect model or a non-perfect model, it's about nuance and subtlety."
Ardern: "Mike, if you're saying you're now a person of nuance and subtlety, bless. I am not going to claim perfection but I will stand by our response."
Ardern said that director general of health Ashley Bloomfield had asked Cabinet to consider a 500-person limit for indoor gatherings at level 1.
But she told the AM Show that if there was a considerable risk of an outbreak, then the country outside of Auckland shouldn't be moved to level 1 at all.
Public health experts have called for a level 1.5, with ongoing requirements for masks in certain circumstances and masks for public transport and planes.
Last week Bloomfield also said he had advised a similar move with "level 1-plus".
"My view is there's merit in maintaining that as we drop down to alert level 1, and that's the advice I've given to Cabinet," Bloomfield told RNZ last week.
The Government "missed an opportunity" by dropping the mandate for masks on public transport when it returned most of New Zealand to near-normal, a leading epidemiologist says.
University of Otago professor Michael Baker said Cabinet should have moved the country into an "alert level 1.5" in case Aucklanders had spread the virus on their travels and to bed-in the normalisation of face coverings.
"The principle now is to be tough on virus transmission, but at the same time not tough on people."
Most of New Zealand woke up in near-normal this morning under alert level 1 while Auckland is set to move into the full settings of alert level 2 at 11.59pm.
That means outside of the Super City masks are no longer mandatory on public transport and planes - though strongly encouraged - and there are no limits on gatherings.
But people are still being asked to use the Covid Tracer app, monitor their health and practise good hygiene which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called "a small price to pay" in return for staying in alert level 1 for "as long as possible".
Aucklanders will stay in alert level 2 for at least another two weeks, with the limit of gatherings extended up to 100 people.
Cabinet will reconsider the city's alert level on October 5, with it likely to join the rest of New Zealand in its alert level 1 freedoms on October 7.
"Essentially, Auckland needs more time. Whilst we have reasonable confidence that we are on the right track, there is still a need for that cautious approach," Ardern said.
"This was the centre of the outbreak and that's why that caution was required here."
With no new community cases for seven days, director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the situation was better than he was expecting as this time last week he was anticipating lifting gathering restrictions only to 50 people.
Bloomfield said masks would continue to be part of New Zealand's response but landed on recommending to only "strongly encouraging" their use on public transport and planes under alert level 1, rather than mandating them.
Baker believes this was a "missed opportunity".
Instead he would have preferred an "alert level 1.5" with limits on "high risk indoor activities" - like clubs, concerts and large gym classes - and continued use of masks on public transport and planes.
Baker said that should continue until there was total confidence the virus had again been eliminated - which is when there hasn't been community transmission for 28 days.
Analysis from the Health Ministry says there's a 50 per cent chance the virus will be eliminated by the end of the month.
Baker said even though there hasn't been unconnected cases outside of Auckland, there was still a risk people travelling from the Super City could have spread it.
And this could take weeks before becoming apparent, Baker said.
Continuing mask use would also help the practice bed into society and continue to be normalised, he said.
His preference is for Auckland to move to alert level 1.5 as it comes out of alert level 2.
"Mask use is low tech so it doesn't interfere with most normal activities. It's a new behaviour that needs to be integrated into the alert level system properly."
But Ardern confirmed yesterday the Government is getting health advice on whether there should be risk-profiling of returnees who might need to be tested a third time after leaving isolation.
People likely to be "high risk" were those coming from countries where the pandemic was surging or if they had a positive case on their flight, Ardern said.
"We're constantly using the evidence we build to add into our system to make it as robust as possible.
"This has been identified as a very small chance but because we're one of the few countries in the world where we have such low numbers of cases we are able to identify these issues and act on them."
It comes as officials are still investigating how a man who completed isolation, returned two negative tests but then tested positive five days later and infected two members of his household.
Ardern said the "most likely scenario" is the mystery case caught Covid-19 on his flight from India as his case has been genomically linked to two others on the same flight. Officials are waiting on the results of two other cases.
Bloomfield said other possibilities was the man caught it while in managed isolation in Christchurch, so CCTV footage was being reviewed, or on his charter flights, and passengers near him are being isolated and tested.
Bloomfield praised the man for "doing everything right" by calling Healthline as soon as he became unwell, isolating with his family and getting tested.
"This is exactly the sort of vigilance that will help us keep ahead of the virus and I would like to thank him again and his family for their quick thinking."
The Government also committed $27 million to the global vaccine
Covax Facility which would act as a pre-purchase should any candidates be successful.
Ardern said it was one of many irons that New Zealand had in the fire to secure a vaccine when one was developed.