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Jacinda Ardern has confirmed Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters was pushing for more frequent use of masks in New Zealand as early as March - but has defended the Government's approach to those and the use of the military.
Peters last week broke ranks from his Coalition partner, revealing publicly that he'd pushed for the army to be called in, masks to be worn and independent oversight of the Covid response, two days before New Zealand's first lockdown in March.
Ardern confirmed to Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking today that Peters had been a "constant advocate on masks".
She said he'd argued for a "long time" for masks on transport such as planes. "We were also in lockdown in March so there were things that were different about the time and place when those suggestions were made.
"On things like military use, there was never any disagreement over that - you can see that in our response. We have used the military.
"In that statement there's an assumption they could have been used more broadly. My view is we used the capacity we have within the military - we have really stretched our use particularly in managed isolation."
More importantly, Ardern told Hosking, "it's election time".
"Even though we have parties who are members of the Government who are members of Cabinet, this is a period where we are going to see those parties drawing distinctions."
Peters told Hosking last week that he regretted "in a way" not speaking out publicly at the time, but said he was bound by ensuring the Cabinet worked as a team with a cohesive approach - and that systems mattered.
Asked why he didn't speak out at the time, he said if you wanted to win an argument in an organisation, you work with people behind closed doors. But there was no harm in outlining the facts respectively - and no one in the Cabinet, including the PM, could deny that he'd been pushing the case for the military and masks.
"We're five months too late doing most of these things but we are doing them now. We finally got the army in, we finally got masks in."
Meanwhile, Ardern confirmed today a major international rugby series in New Zealand was a "real possibility" before the end of the year, despite the Covid restrictions.
An All Blacks squad was named yesterday, with hopes of test matches against at least Australia and a Pacific team, and possibly South Africa and Argentina in New Zealand.
"There have been some discussions of whether we could play host for a tournament," said Ardern.
"It's something we have been exploring, and seeing whether we can facilitate that within current arrangements. We do have tight arrangements at the border that we need to uphold - health need to be happy with everything.
"It's not just down to us. We are doing enough to make it a real possibility. We have kept that door open and in good faith gone through those protocols. But ultimately we are not the only ones making that decision."
As midnight struck last night, a new law came to pass - all frontline workers on the borders will have to be regularly tested for Covid-19.
And anyone who refuses the test for no good reason can now face a hefty fine of up to $1000.
The Ministry of Health announced that the Government had passed a new Public Health Response order that will mean starting from this week, those on the border frontline will be tested once a week or once a fortnight.
The thousands of people include those working at quarantine facilities, those who transport overseas arrivals to and from those facilities.
Bus drivers who take overseas arrivals to and from managed isolation hotels - as well as those who work at those facilities - will have to be tested once every two weeks.
Others to be tested regularly from now include those border-facing people working in immigration, customs, primary industries and aviation security officials and district health board staff.
Airport workers handling international baggage trolleys, airport cleaners and airline workers who interact with passengers will also be tested once a fortnight.
Port workers will also have to be tested once a fortnight, including pilots and port workers who work on or around ships, and people who transport others to or from ships.
Even people working in retail and food and beverage establishments at the airport will have to get the Covid-19 test regularly.
Airline workers who don't interact with international arrivals will not have to be tested.
The new law comes after a harrowing few days for the country; particularly with the announcement of two Covid-related deaths.
First deaths of Auckland cluster
On Friday, news broke of the tragic death of father-of-four Alan Te Hiko at Middlemore Hospital.
Te Hiko, in his late 50s, worked at the Americold coolstore in Mt Wellington where several staff members and subsequently their family members were first affected by the virus early last month.
He also became the youngest person to die from the virus in New Zealand.
A day later, authorities announced the death of well-respected doctor and Pasifika health leader Dr Joe Williams.
The 82-year-old had battled the virus for weeks after being identified as the initial person to be hospitalised with Covid-19 in the Auckland cluster early last month.
It is not still not yet known how Williams contracted the disease. However, his general practice is not far from the Americold coolstore in Mt Wellington.
Five new cases yesterday - four from Mt Roskill cluster
Five new active cases were announced publicly yesterday - four of whom were identified as being connected to the Mt Roskill Evangelical Church mini cluster.
The fifth case is a man in his 20s who arrived from India on August 23 and has been in managed isolation. He is said to be a close contact to an earlier case.
The total number of active cases is 116. Of those, 39 are imported cases in MIQ facilities, and 77 are community cases.
Auckland is at alert level 2.5 while the rest of the country is at level 2 until 11.59pm on September 16, even though all the current cases are in Auckland or are linked to the 155-person Auckland cluster.
Part of the Government's rationale for keeping the rest of the country at level 2 is to provide some protections - physical distancing and a 100-person limit on gatherings - while people are allowed to travel in and out of Auckland.