New Zealand could move to level 1 in just eight days' time if all goes well, the Prime Minister says.
Jacinda Ardern said this morning that at next Monday's Cabinet meeting the decision could be made to move to level 1 in 48 hours. She would be discussing that prospect with Cabinet today, she told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking.
Ardern said she had always been clear that June 22 was the latest date to decide to move to level 1, assuming there was no evidence of community transmission.
It comes as New Zealand has had its 10th straight day of testing finding no new Covid-19 cases. There is just one known active case in the country and nobody is in hospital.
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There's been increasing pressure on the Government to lift the level 2 restrictions, both from the Opposition and from Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, who says the health risks are now outweighed by the devastation to the economy.
Ardern condemns George Floyd killing but says protesters breached rules
Concerns have been raised that yesterday's mass protests - held in solidarity with Black Lives Matter protests in the USA sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer - could have spread the virus, with social distancing almost non-existent.
Ardern told Hosking she did not condone the rule breaches.
"I absolutely understand the strength of feeling and the sentiment" at the protests but level 2 restrictions were in place for a reason, she said.
Police had attended the protests and how they dealt with the crowds was an operational decision, she said.
They had taken an educate-first approach, followed by warning people, before prosecution - which was consistent with the approach they had taken ever since the level 4 lockdown began.
Police had played a "phenomenal" role all the way through Covid-19 and Ardern said she would leave on-the-ground decisions to them.
Ardern later told MediaWorks she condemned the killing of George Floyd.
Winston Peters this morning called for protest organisers to be prosecuted - telling Hosking that New Zealand should be at alert level 1 now if authorities were essentially condoning mass protests.
But Ardern later hit back, saying nobody argued in level 4 that if people broke the rules it was a reason to remove the rules.
Peters laughed when pushed about why his view that the country needed to move into alert level 1 did not seem to be acknowledged by Ardern.
"Stand back and watch," he said.
He also claimed the transition to level 1 was not even on the agenda for today's Cabinet meeting.
Ardern later told Hosking the matter would be discussed when Cabinet meets today.
Ardern spoke with director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield on the weekend about whether a move to level 1 was possible next week, she told MediaWorks this morning.
He had agreed with her that numbers were exceeding expectations.
That phone call had been held before Ardern was aware there were protests being organised, she said, and her decision had "absolutely zero" to do with those events.
She confirmed the alert level 2 rules had been breached - and agreed that if a cluster of Covid-19 resulted from the protests, the rest of the country's efforts to eliminate the virus would have gone to waste.
"Yep, that's exactly right. I'm not going to dispute that."
Infectious disease expert Dr Siouxsie Wiles has begged protesters to self-isolate for 14 days to ensure they don't spread the virus.
Ardern told MediaWorks she would be asking Bloomfield for his official advice on whether they should self-isolate.
And she condemned the killing of George Floyd, as did the rest of the world.
She said New Zealand was not a picture of perfection either - however it did openly discuss its issues with racism and ethnic bias.
Economy back up and running, PM says
Ardern told Hosking that "by and large" the economy was back. People were not fully returning to New Zealand's cities but that was due to personal decisions, rather than any restrictions.
Hosking put it to Ardern that retailers and hospitality businesses say they can't make a living at level 2. Ardern said she would like to hear from retailers - some were putting more restrictions in place with their customers than were actually needed.
She recognised that hospitality businesses were still being hit by the restrictions but said New Zealand had opened up more quickly than other countries. Only Belarus and Taiwan had looser restrictions than New Zealand.
She denied giving precedence to the views of epidemiologists and virus experts over economists, saying she had to listen to both groups.