Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has stopped short of committing to a Government probe into the Whakaari / White Island eruption and says no decision will be made before next year.

Ardern on Monday announced Cabinet had agreed to setting up a $5 million fund to help small businesses in Whakatāne affected by the disaster and those recently hit by flooding in the South Island's Westland District.

"We don't see this, necessarily, as being the totality of the need in both these areas but thought it important to make sure that we were working to address immediate needs," Ardern told reporters.

Ministers would over the summer break decide on the criteria and details of the funding, she said.


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Tourist-driven businesses around Whakatāne have reported a downturn since the eruption last Monday that has killed at least 16 people and left 27 people in hospitals across New Zealand and Australia.

However, Ardern on Monday said the Government was still waiting on advice on whether a further inquiry needed to be launched into the disaster and that officials would not be providing feedback until 2020.

There are currently two probes already running into the eruption: one by workplace watchdog WorkSafe, and a second by the coroner with the assistance of police.

Ardern said any Government probe would try to fill the gaps between areas covered by those investigations.

"There remain now questions to be asked and questions to be answered," she said

"What I want to make sure is we answer all the questions we need to answer, but that we don't duplicate."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern greets Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne in Wellington. Photo / Hagen Hopkins
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern greets Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne in Wellington. Photo / Hagen Hopkins

She said the Worksafe probe would cover questions of public safety and the obligations of tourism operators during the event, and could lead to prosecutions.


That investigation is now expected to take up to a year.

Ardern said there also needed to be a separate look into the emergency response to the eruption, but suggested that would likely be handled by police.

"I do think we need to look at that immediate aftermath and we owe it to the families to look at that immediate aftermath."

That follows mounting pressure on emergency services over delays in recovering bodies from the eruption in the days immediately after.

Monday's announcement capped off a day of mourning, with Cabinet pausing at 2.11pm to stand and join the rest of the county and Australia in a minute of silence marking the exact moment the volcanic island erupted a week ago.

Sixteen people have been confirmed dead by police, while two bodies remain on White Island.

Of those confirmed dead so far, 10 were Australian tourists.

A dozen others are also still being treated in Australian hospitals for severe burns after being evacuated home. Eight of those patients are in a critical condition.

Ardern said the assistance from across the Tasman had significantly eased the burden on New Zealand burns units.

In the afternoon, she met with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne in Wellington to exchange condolences.

"Australia has experienced a huge amount of loss in this tragedy and the contact, the offers from Prime Minister [Scott] Morrison and the Government has been fantastic," Ardern told Payne.

"We've really felt that support and at the same time we want to offer it to you for your loss."

Payne, who visited survivors at the Hutt Valley Hospital before the Beehive meeting, praised the work on New Zealand doctors.

"Medical evacuation of burns victims is extraordinarily difficult and I cannot thank you enough for what those professionals have done, let alone the first responders who took people off the island, brought them back, and saved those lives," she told Ardern.

Police are still deciding whether to return to the island on Tuesday.