On the day before New Zealand moved to an alert level 3 lockdown, PM Jacinda Ardern spoke to the NZ Herald about the decisions she had made, how she would navigate the rocky road ahead, and what level 3 would mean for her own bubble.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she was confident every step of the way in her decisions around the Covid-19 lockdown, and that compliance by New Zealanders was "astounding".
In an interview with the NZ Herald on the last day of alert level 4 lockdown, Ardern spoke about her decisions and the approach for the road ahead.
Ardern said back in January she would not have believed she could put the whole country into a Wuhan-style lockdown, but the compliance New Zealand had been "astounding".
Ardern has been praised internationally and at home for her decisive, confident handling of major decisions, such as going into lockdown. New Zealand's response has also been compared, both favourably and unfavourably, to other countries such as Australia.
There had been also been persistent question marks about contact tracing ability, testing, protective equipment, and whether Ardern should have moved on the borders earlier. Yet every time Ardern had appeared at the stage in the Beehive to announce a big decision, she had appeared totally confident. Asked if she had secretly harboured fears that it would all go awry, she said no.
"I have been confident.
"One of the things I've always done, whether it was Covid, or March 15, or mycoplasma bovis if you want to track to the beginning, before any of those decisions I make a habit of talking to a range of people, trying to get all of the evidence and advice.
"I balance the need to move quickly but also being confident when we move that we are doing the right thing.
"So every time I have come down, I have felt confident. I felt we are doing the right thing for the right reason – and for us. And that 'us' thing is important.
"I've spoken to leaders in Singapore, Denmark, a number of world leaders. Some have taken different approaches but we have done what is right for us. I've always felt confident of that."
She said she'd had access to "good minds" and data to back her up.
LIFE AT LEVEL THREE: first stop, the café over the road.
Ardern was not concerned people would get lax about the lockdown rules at level 3 despite the psychological element about shifting down a level.
She had kept an eye on social media – one of the few ways to gauge public sentiment in lockdown – and had seen "jokey memes" about alert level 3 as "stay at home with takeaways".
"That might be trivialising it but it gives me a sense people do recognise we are opening up the economy, but not their social lives.
"Through all of this we've been really mindful of human behaviour.
"I don't say that in any way that means New Zealanders behave differently from anyone else, but we've had to build in human behaviour into all of our thinking."
She said that meant it was only natural that people would want contact with others, but New Zealanders had stuck to the rules, according to Google data.
"New Zealand's compliance has been astounding, relative to other countries as well."
She said people had seen that it was working, and had felt a sense of responsibility to each other.
"We couldn't have done any of this if people hadn't felt like that."
As for the changes level 3 might bring for Ardern and her bubble, you will not see her sitting at a drive-through waiting for a takeaway.
She was instead looking forward to buying level 3 treats from small, local businesses such as the café across the road from Premier House.
"The day before we went into lockdown I walked past one of the local restaurants and they were in there packing up. And I gave them a wave and they shouted something nice to me as I was walking across the road. I thought 'they are directly affected by this, and so for them to have felt that solidarity with all of us I thought was a real indication of the way people were feeling.
"So I'm really looking forward to being able to support them now they can operate again."
"It's not so much that I've missed a particular thing or product, but I do want to make the most of the opportunity to support people because that's something I've been acutely aware of during level 4."
While others were being allowed to increase their bubbles, Ardern did not expect hers to change much – she has her parents, partner Clarke Gayford and baby Neve at home, as well a few core staff at Parliament.
A few more staff would need to return, and Finance Minister Grant Robertson would again be allowed to have some staff in to his office once Parliament began again. He had been working without his staff in a bid to keep Ardern's bubble as small as possible.
NAVIGATING THE ROCKS AHEAD
Ardern says Labour will not rip up its pre-Covid songbook in responding to the economic challenges of the virus and will keep the same priorities on its agenda.
Ardern was asked if she was worried about what lay ahead and whether she expected to have to take some actions that Labour supporters would not like for the sake of restoring the economy.
There have already been suggestions such as stalling minimum wage increases, allowing more foreign investment and land sales, and tax cuts – all anathema to Labour. There is also debate about "helicopter" cash, a universal basic income and benefit increases.
While the Government already has an infrastructure programme set out, there is likely to be debate about which infrastructure is best to invest in first.
Ardern said dealing with the fallout of Covid-19 on jobs and the economy would be in three phases – the immediate support phase, then rebuilding, and regeneration.
"Worried is not the word I would use right now. This is an opportunity for us to accelerate what we were already doing, but at a faster pace.
"There is constantly in a role like this the sense that you need to deliver on multiple issues at any one time. This is now a very concentrated version of that.
"It is not that the agenda changes, it is that the agenda accelerates."
She said all three Government parties also shared a belief that the benefits of the economy should be shared more fairly, and in the general aims of the "wellbeing" narrative.
"That's been our plan as a Government. My intention is that going forward, we use that as our foundation still because that is where our consensus lies and there is a still a huge amount of investment opportunity for us, particularly around the sustainability transition of New Zealand's economy."
Ardern's apparent reluctance to look beyond the Government's own agenda could prompt some concern the response will be impacted by ideology, rather than on what is needed.
The prospect of recession – and even depression – has prompted some to call for Ardern to set up an "All Stars" brains trust, including New Zealand's business leaders, thinkers and former politicians – such as National's former prime ministers Sir John Key and Sir Bill English – to help come up with ideas to steer the economy back on track.
Ardern said she was already dealing with business leaders – including the group led by Rob Fyfe who had approached her to help securing supplies of protective equipment, and were now taking a broader role.
Her Business Advisory Group was also still in touch and were presenting ideas for the support and recovery.
She expected to tap into the tripartite group of Business NZ, the unions and Government more as well.
"I'm not ruling out us doing something more formalised that is more Covid-specific, but I would say it wouldn't just include people from the business community. But just ... good minds, generational representation and Māori."
However, Ardern had little appetite for calling on the likes of former prime ministers Key and English. She had not spoken to either, but had spoken to former PM Helen Clark.
"I don't hesitate to reach out and find ideas regardless of someone's political persuasion. But, of course, I also want to take politics out of some of these things as well and that usually means keeping politicians out of it as well."
However, it is inevitable politics will be a part of the economic response.
The return of Parliament is the starting gun for politics to resume.
Ardern rang the changes by saying on Monday that it would be the last of the regular joint press conferences she had with director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
Those press conferences had continued throughout level 4, but with Parliament returning and the focus moving on the economic response it was likely seen as no longer appropriate for a Government department head to be on stage next to her each day.
But four hours later, that decision was reversed and media were advised that the joint press conferences would continue a few times a week.