COVID-19: Media update 25 May

News article

25 May 2020

There was no 1 pm media conference today. See the media statement for 25 May for the latest COVID-19 numbers.

The Director-General of Health attended the 4 pm post-Cabinet media conference.

Jacinda Ardern: OK. Kia ora koutou katoa.  Good afternoon.

 I'm do a brief headline a few announcements for the week and then I'm open up for questions. 

What I'll do at this time, we'll make sure we can front up the covid questions for Dr Bloomfield.

The House sits again this week. I'll be in the House on Tuesday and Wednesday, as usual. As you would expect, economic recovery from COVID-19 continues to be my focus this week.

On Wednesday, I'll be holding a virtual summit with Prime Minister Lee of Singapore to mark the 1-year anniversary of the New Zealand-Singapore Enhanced Partnership, underpinning cooperation in a range of areas. New Zealand's relationship with Singapore has been critical in recent months as we've worked closely to secure critical supplies such as COVID testing kits and PPE, and to ensure trade links remain open to the benefit of our exporter.

On Wednesday evening, I will participate in a conference call of world leaders in the so-called Early Movers Initiative. It's a grouping of nations that's, by and large, went hard and early to beat COVID-19. And we're exchanging information on the best approaches to take as many - such as New Zealand - begin to de-escalate restrictions. The call is hosted by the Austrian Chancellor and includes leaders from Australia, Norway, Denmark and Israel, just to name a few.

On Thursday, I will attend virtually the local and central government forum and undertake COVID recovery visits in the Wellington region.

And on Friday, I'll be in the Hawke's Bay for further economic recovery-related visits.

Tourism New Zealand has just launched the "Do Something New New Zealand" campaign, encouraging Kiwis to see parts of the country they haven't been to before to help get our economy and tourism sector moving again. And I urge anyone who is in a position to do so to help our recovery and support our local tourism operators by booking a visit to our own incredible backyard. I'm still in the process of locking down my plans for the weekend, but I do intend, as much as I'm able, to get out and about and support our local economies as well.

As signalled last week, Cabinet today discussed the Alert Level 2 settings and the pathway to move to Level 1 as soon as safely possible.

Last week, I said we would regularly adjust our settings at Level 2 to allow more activity to take place when the advice and data says it's safe. We want to get our economy moving quickly without losing the gains we have made to date. It takes about two weeks for changes in levels to start showing up in our cases, as we're all now familiar.

So we can now be highly confident, more than three weeks after the shift to Level 3, that there are no new cases attributable to the more relaxed restrictions which we had as we stepped down into Level 3 and started moving beyond that. That is very good news and is counter to what many countries overseas have experienced, as they loosen their restrictions, with many having seen spikes in cases.

This is, in large part, to New Zealanders sticking to the rules at 3, maintaining physical distancing, ensuring we limited the activities most likely to spread the virus, and of course the ongoing role of our border controls and the quarantine at our border. On the basis of this good news, though, Cabinet has decided we can now increase the size of all gatherings to 100.

From 12:00 noon this Friday, 29 May.

This means gatherings such as church services, weddings and funerals can now have 100 people present. There also no longer will be a need for funerals or tangihanga to preregister via the Ministry of Health, as they had been previously doing to date.

The move to 100 also allows community sport to operate more easily, and I understand sporting codes have been working on operational guidance with Sport New Zealand.

 Large-scale events like concerts will obviously still have those restrictions applied in terms of size, but the shift to 100-person maximum means many more gatherings will be able to occur from now on. These changes are good news for business and for those looking to plan larger gatherings. It's another step in re-normalising of life as we continue to stamp out the virus.

 It is the government's view that we should also move as quickly as we safely can to Alert Level 1.

On that basis, Cabinet will check in again on our settings on the 8th of June, and we've agreed that no later than the 22nd of June - four weeks from today - we will consider then the move to Alert Level 1.

The fact that we are even - and I should add, this is base on the advice of the Director-General of Health, who's supported and made these recommendations. The fact that we are even making these decisions shows the success we have had to date as a country in fighting the virus, and highlights we can now make choices many others can't. In fact, the increasing gathering size means we now have some of the most permissive settings of any of the countries we compare ourselves to, including Australia.

Going hard and early has paid off for the economy, and now we need to just continue the level of vigilance that has got us here.

We are still in a global pandemic. Cases continue to grow overseas. And we do still have people coming home. But for the most part, many aspects of life can and should feel much more normal. Let's not lose that advantage.

However, no matter how fast we reopen our economy, there will continue to be tough times to come for many. Protecting New Zealanders from the economic hit of the virus is our priority, and we are investing in jobs and support to business to keep Kiwis in work. We're also investing in training to help people shift jobs too. But we know that there will be job losses. And for many, losing their job will be incredibly hard on them and their family financially.

That is why, today - as you're aware - we have announced enhanced financial support for New Zealanders who lose their job due to the virus. A full-time worker will receive $490 tax-free a week for 12 weeks to help cushion them through the initial period in which they lose their job. This will also add much-needed stimulus to the economy.

Our team of 5 million stuck together to defeat the virus. Now, we need to stick together to support those bearing the brunt of the virus's economic impact. I urge New Zealanders to be kind to each other in lockdown. And we now need to continue that support to one another during our economic response to the virus also.

We're now happy to take your questions. 

Media: The decision to go from 10 to 100 - is that on advice from the Ministry of Health to go to 100, or did you reach a compromise where they said 150 and you'd go down to 100? 

Jacinda Ardern: I'll let the Director-General speak to his own advice. 

Ashley Bloomfield: Thanks, Prime Minister. Kia ora koutou.

The full group size in Alert Level 2 was always 100. We started off with 10. And we felt we were in a position to advise that we could go right to the full extent of Alert Level 2, which is a group size of 100, and that's the advice we gave. 

Media: Does this change the restrictions on hospitality outlets that you can only have groups of 10 and one server? 

Jacinda Ardern: Obviously the groups of 10 was always based around the social gatherings. Now, that limit has gone. What we are still asking hospitality to do is to continue to seat people, continue with all of that social distancing within their venues. But they can have larger group sizes now. Otherwise, it would be inconsistent that you can have a large social gathering at home but you can't take that social gathering into a hospitality space. 

Media: Does that include dance floors? 

Jacinda Ardern: At this stage, of course, we are still keeping the seating in those venues. And that is, of course, because with organised events like weddings and so on, it's much easier for us to keep a track of who's together. When you have a large number of strangers coming and going in those hospitality spaces, that becomes more difficult. 

Media: Isn't that what the app's for, though? 

Jacinda Ardern: Yes - of course, it's not just about tracking, but risk mitigation as well. I think that's one of the things for us to continue to be mindful of. New Zealand is in a good space. But we still have to be mindful that, when we look abroad, we are seeing countries that are still surging in their cases. We do still have New Zealanders coming home. They are being quarantined. But we also know that COVID's showing up in some tests for people four weeks after having had it. So we do still need to just keep managing that risk, but we are doing it in such a way that we are opening up as much of our economy as we can at the same time. 

Media: Just in terms of the... 

Media: Venue owners are really upset with this - another apparent inconsistency. 

Jacinda Ardern: Um, how so? 

Media: Because people will be able to go and dance and have parties at a wedding or in... 

Jacinda Ardern: Keeping in mind the health advice, still, and guidance, remains the same, even for those who are having a wedding event as they are for those who might be going out for a night out in Cortney Place. All of that health guidance remains exactly the same. What I think we should also keep in mind is - we are opening, and have already opened, our bars. Across the ditch, that's not even on the horizon. And in fact, we're saying that we will be reviewing, in four weeks' time - that is a very, very distant prospect for many other countries. So we're moving faster than many, but doing so in a way that means that we keep these good results. 

Media: Can you use the COVID-19 app to revisit businesses, if they're going to have a 99-person party? 

Jacinda Ardern: We expect that people, when they're running their own events, they're likely to know who's attending them. What we are doing, though, is working with MBIE to make sure that people who don't have business numbers - for instance, churches, electorate offices, other venues - are able to access QR codes. That's something that MBIE has been working on. 

Media: Watt would your advice be to people who were keen to hold a people on Friday? 

Jacinda Ardern: Keep a list of who you've invited, and you may send out an invite list via Facebook - there's lots of ways you can keep track of that. It is still really important that people keep those digital diaries. For a wedding, that's obviously quite straightforward because you're sending out your invitations. But do keep a log of who it is that's participating in your events. We still need to be able to contact-trace. I'll come to the front... 

Media: Was that specifically to cater for the church population that had been feeling hard done by? 

Jacinda Ardern: Two things - we need to give enough time for orders to be drafted and then notice around those orders. So, you know, the option for Friday really was the earliest that we could do that. But we were mindful that, actually, there are services for those who come together for prayer, for our Muslim community, our Jewish community, Seventh-Day Adventests - we were mindful of the different times at which religious communities begin their congregations on Fridays. That was in our thinking as well. 

Media: In terms of the time line, you said it would be no later than June 22, the shift. What's the late 

Jacinda Ardern: As I've flagged, 8th of June, we're looking at the settings - we're making sure the Level 2 settings are working consistently and no adjustments need to be made there. Of course, we need to keep a mind on what's happening with cases. The recommendation from the Ministry of Health is that then we would look at, on the 22nd of June, to move then to Level 1. But we are keeping our ability to keep a watch on how we're tracking in the meantime. 

Media: Does that mean that, on June 22, you need to have provided a date for moving to Level 1 by June 22? So, on June 22, you could say, "By July 5, we go to Level 1"? 

Jacinda Ardern: I think more optimistically than that. Perhaps I can hand over to Dr Bloomfield to give his thinking. But we want to clearly signpost the expectation of movement around alert levels. And we've done that so far. That's what we're continuing to do here around the most likely time that we would see movement around Alert Level 1. 

Ashley Bloomfield: Thank you. Two comments. First of all, the reason why we felt able to advise to go from 10 to 100 - to the full Alert Level 2 group size - was because, obviously, we've just had the very low, or zero cases, over this last weekend if you go back three weeks. In effect, the outcome of our lockdown, and the way that people supported that through Alert Levels 4 and 3, has paid huge dividends here. So we felt, not only should we move to 100, but that we should spend, then, two 2-week periods in the full Alert Level 2, and then actively consider a possible move to Alert Level 1. 

Jacinda Ardern: That's us signalling that, if we can we continue on this track, continue to see these low number of cases, or no cases, then we'll be in a position to look to move from that point. So that's what we're signalling today. I hope that does give that level of certainty for plan, as much as we're able to for those who are currently living with the restrictions that come with Level 2. 

Media: A question on the bubble - can you be clear about this? Is the bubble conditional on Australia eliminating state border restrictions? 

Jacinda Ardern: No. It's contingent on Australia signalling that they're ready. That will come with, I'm sure, their own conditions on what they think needs to be in place. Ultimately, it's a matter for them. They may choose to open up while they still have some internal border restrictions. They may choose to wait. I see that as a matter for Australia. 

Media: Do Australians who've lived and worked in New Zealand have to wait on that bubble before they can return? Or are they allowed to - 

Jacinda Ardern: They can return. They're just subject to our quarantine. So I imagine many will be waiting for a period where they wouldn't have to have a quarantine applied to them, which is the benefit of the trans-Tasman bubble - once we're in a position to apply that, then the quarantine wouldn't be part of that treble max. 

Media: I know someone - they have four times tried to come back to New Zealand but have not been allowed. Are there processes that they can get back? 

Jacinda Ardern: That sounds curious to me. Happy to pick up any case that feels like it might be inconsistent. What we do know - obviously we've had the situation where citizens or permanent residents are obviously allowed to come home. There have been some who've been living here bit don't hold that status who have been caught out offshore. That's a group that we're now working through how we look at having those individuals be able to reconnect with their family, their loved ones, their work, their home. So we do recognise there have been a group caught out there, and we do need to make sure we're focused on how some exemptions would apply to them. They would still need to quarantine, though, until we're in a situation where a bubble exists. 

Media: Dr Bloomfield, do you consider, with the low number of cases recently, that eradication is now possible? And is there any work being done at the Ministry of Health around a precise definition of "elimination" that public health experts have? 

Ashley Bloomfield: Well, on the latter question - yes, we've got a really clear description of what "elimnation" is, and in fact we've elaborated this into a nice description - if it's not on our website already, we will make sure it's up there. But the thing about elimination is, again - there's still a pandemic out there. And we still have a very strong set of limitations and measures at the border that are part of an elimination strategy. So, even if we're confident there's no transition of disease inside the country, the possibility of it coming in - which is what we're very clear we're trying to avoid - means that we need to maintain an elimination approach because, if we do get a case, we need to be able to do the - we need to test, we need to be able to isolate and contact-trace. So it's an ongoing elimination rather than a one-off eradication process. 

Media: Prime Minister, over the weekend, we've been hearing reports of continuing confusion with the apps and some businesses have actually - in hospitalty - have gotten rid of their contact-tracing sheets because they think the government app are rereplaces it. Is that part still up to standard in your view? 

Jacinda Ardern: What we signalled when the contact-tracing app by the Ministry of Health came in was that there would be that period of transition. What the mainistry is building in is the functionality that, if you go into a hospitality venue, you scan in - we want the ability to - if you are found to have COVID, to then contact everyone else through an automated process to let them know that they need to take certain precautions. And THAT functionality is being built in. That's where there's that little bit of overlap at the moment around recording for hospitality. So you still see that. Some are still continuing to use other apps like Ripple and so on, but we do see a situation in the not-too-distant future, we will be able to consolidate right now. At the moment, over 360,000 have downloaded the app. One of the key things that it does do is make sure that the Ministry of Health then has the updated details. Even that is a huge improvement on what we've had in the past. And we've had, I think, from memory, something like 13,000 businesses as well. But we continue to expect that to grow. 

Media: Back on trans-Tasman travel - just to be clear, you're saying that state border bans in Australia aren't a barrier to the resumption of travel between the two countries? Because this morning, you suggested that that was the case - that they wouldn't be able to travel... 

Jacinda Ardern: To be really clear - it has got nothing - it's not a barrier for us. It's got nothing to do with us in terms of that decision-making. It's ultimately a matter for Australia. There's nothing on our end that means that would be problematic. It's ultimately over to Australia. I would anticipate that they'd probably want to resolve that movement issue first but, still, as I say, that's absolutely a matter for Australia. 

Media: But there's been no discussions between New Zealand and Australia - or New Zealand officials and some state officials - about as Tasman travel on a state-by-state basis? 

Jacinda Ardern: There's been no reading of our borders. That will, at a state level - there's a role that there at a state level because, as I understand the way that they'll be working there through their airports and so on, there will have been conversations. But, again, that's not down to timetabling - it's just down to readiness. But I'll continue to stay in touch with Prime Minister Morrison. I anticipate catching up with, again, him this week just as we regularly do. But from our perspective, it's ultimately down to when both sides of the Tasman feel ready. 

Media: Have you had a chance to see Todd Muller's - 

Jacinda Ardern: Can I just continue to check that we've got COVID questions in there? I'm happy to come to you, but I don't want to have Dr Bloomfield standing here unnecessary. 

Media: Why -- unnecessarily. 

Media: Why release an app if it doesn't have the functionality to replace the existing contact-tracing...? 

Jacinda Ardern: Again, there are multiple benefits that the app provides the Ministry of Health. Updated contact information is one of them. We will continue to see rolling updates. One around that additional ability to contact other people who check in to a similar venue. Also, around further work on Bluetooth. So there will continue to be improvements as we go. Yep, down the back? 

Media: Just to come back to dance floors - if you're in a private venue and you're having a wedding or something like that - a private venue - you can have a dance floor? Or no dance floor at all? And a public setting - bars can't have...? 

Jacinda Ardern: Again, we're still continuing in those hospitality settings to have the requirements around seated. Keeping in mind, on any given evening, the number of people who can be coming through a single venue can be significant. Whereas, of course, private venues, we continue to also have guidelines for them around the way they behave at their singular events. But they are singular events, so that's the distinctions that have been drawn there. 

Media: So places that have been hired out... 

Jacinda Ardern: That has a single gathering of 100 people, as opposed to the fact that you could have 1,000 people coming through a bar at any given night. That isn't for an event such as that. 

Media: Why is someone who loses their job because of COVID-19 paid - 

Jacinda Ardern: Can I just check if there's any more for Dr Bloomfield? I'm happy to then come to income support payments. 

Media: You've been pushing for Kiwis to stay home at even the slightest hint of sickness. There's a lot of lack of job security around at the moment. Are you worried that they're not going to take that advice? What's your advice to people? 

Jacinda Ardern: My hope would be - you've seen some of the announcements we've made today - we're continuing to support people and allow them that, if they need to take time to be well, that they will be able to do that. Because we actually do want all New Zealanders - regardless of their circumstances - to be able to look after themselves and their community by staying home if they're sick. 

Media: Do you need to more permanently then look at sick leave? 

Jacinda Ardern: That's not something that's been raised as an issue to date. We'll continue to stay in touch with those representatives who might have a closer ear to the ground on whether that's becoming a limitation. Anything else for Dr Bloomfield? Thank you, Dr Bloomfield. I'll come back to you. 

Media: Thank you. Have you had a chance to see Todd Muller's new frontbench that he outlined today? Do you consider it a more or less formidable frontbench? 

Jacinda Ardern: I can't say I express an opinion either way. I did see it briefly in the aftermath of Cabinet and, again, I just repeat what I said this morning - it is no easy thing to rebuild a team after a coup. It is tough work. And I wish them well. 

Media: From your experience of opposition, does it become self-fulfilling after one successful coup to kind of turn off the tap of that revolving leadership contest that kicked in with the Labour Party? 

Jacinda Ardern: (LAUGHS) That's ultimately, again, as someone, of course, who's had experience on both sides, I think one thing I've learnt is not to dispense too much advice, particularly when my job is to get on with focusing on our economic recovery. That's what I'm doing. I wish them well in their recovery as an opposition. Obviously they're not the party of Key and English now. They're having to rebuild now. And I wish them all the best. 

Media: Why does someone losing their job of COVID-19 deserve more money than someone who's lost their job for another reason? 

Jacinda Ardern: I don't think that's how I would characterise it. We need to acknowledge hereof, when we have large-scale job loss - we had the same with the GFC, and the same with the Christchurch earthquake - there's an acknowledgement that you have a large number of people that have found themselves in a economic environment that is incredibly tough. This is an issue that's been raised in the future of work - rather than continuing just is to have this ongoing response in this way, I'd like us to think about what, in the future, will stop us from having to put in these ad hoc responses. But this is the third time now we've had to do something like this when there's been a large-scale shock to our system. I think it's time we consider the longer-term framework. 

Media: Doesn't that get to the point that overall benefit levels are too low? As your own welfare advisory group told you? 

Jacinda Ardern: Obviously this is short-term. So, acknowledging that this is short-term, firstly. Acknowledging, also, that we've got a much larger group of people who are coming in at one time because it's an extraordinary event. And also that there are limitations to the eligibility. So it's not just income level - it's whether or not there are whole groups of people who will sit outside the system but, equally, will experience a significant shock and possibly lose their homes and so on. And what I'm arguing is that, actually, it is time for us to look at the longer-term settings when we have previously plugged this gap - three times before now. 

Media: What would you say to someone who lost their job in January for some other reason, nothing to do with COVID, and has been struggling financially ever since on regular unemployment benefit. Why hasn't it day get that money? 

Jacinda Ardern: We have acknowledged, again this is a period that is a 1-in-100-year event. But it is going to trigger us to do work outside of that event. I think it does highlight a gap in our system. Jenna, then Joe. 

Media: Wouldn't a more long-term solution just to raise benefits to a level that is livable? 

Jacinda Ardern: When you look globally, we are one of the few countries that doesn't have any form of social insurance. And that points to, I think, a gap in our system that we have sporadically plugged - in the GFC, in the Christchurch earthquakes, and now. And so that does make our system different to others. It has been looked at from time to time. But I think, you know, the fact that we're back here again, I think, does mean there's something to look to in the longer-term. 

Media: Sorry, just in terms of the redundancy limit of $30,000 - why is that fair if someone's worked in a job for 16 years and getting a payout of that much - you know, how do you gauge...? 

Jacinda Ardern: Equally, if we'd mothad that, you would ask whether it would be fair for someone to receive a significant payout, or indeed have access to an income at a certain amount. I think there's always a balance between cushioning the blow for people who are in that situation, but also doing it in such a way that acknowledges that some will have a cushioning that they've had provided by their employer as well. OK, Jo. 

Media: Will you give any consideration to campaigning for just the party vote in the Northland seat? 

Jacinda Ardern: Sorry? 

Media: Will you give any consideration to campaigning for just the party vote in the Northland seat? 

Jacinda Ardern: I've answered many times before that we haven't done that in the past, and I see no reason why we would in the future, and it's not a request I've had either. 

Media: Just a supplement - does that concern you at all to see the National Party, under its new leadership, leaving the door open to New Zealand First? 

Jacinda Ardern: Look, these ultimately are decisions that other parties will make. But we've always been a party that has run in electorates, because we see that representation being really important for our Labour voters in different areas. So that's something we've had for, obviously, a number of elections. 

Media: Will this open the door in terms of, I guess, campaigning for party vote in Northland seat? Would you match that? 

Jacinda Ardern: One of the things here - I accept that we are moving into a phase where people will be quite focused on the election but, as I've said, that's not something we've done before. My focus - yes, there will come a time when I will switch into that election mode. Right now, I need to run a government and an economic response to COVID. 

Media: Have you received any reports... 

Jacinda Ardern: You've given up on yours? That's fine. Ben? 

Media: Are you guys done? 

Jacinda Ardern: Yeah. 

Media: (LAUGHS) Have you received any advice of damage from this morning's earthquake? And, on indulgence, I wonder - since you're based in Wellington at the moment - if it was Neve's first earthquake and how she fared? 

Jacinda Ardern: I don't believe it was the first. I think we've had tremors before. Well, certainly Premier House tends to feel them quite acutely. As for damage - I had a report from Nima quite soon after - times sometimes it takes a bit of time for us to get reports of damage. We have quite an automated service where people can tell us whether or not they felt it and the strength of it. So a large number, obviously, reported it. But I haven't, as yet, had reports of damage. But I'd expect that will take a little bit more time to come through. 

Media: You've been quite widely meme'd for your response this morning as it hit while you were on live TV. What was going through your head at that moment when you felt the room shaking and you were on camera? 

Jacinda Ardern: "Are you serious?" That's what was going through my head, not me responding to your question. 

Media: (INAUDIBLE QUESTION) 

Jacinda Ardern: You can see right here where I was standing - I was standing on that second stair. There's not a lot to drop, cover and hold under in that precise spot - in fact, in this room. But what I was also mindful of is that it's not always easy to get a real sense of the magnitude of an earthquake in here because of the base icilators - you can tend to move a little bit more than the quake implies in terms of strength, so... 

Media: The national disaster fund is essentially now, for the first time, the second there's another large earthquake, it can't automatically be called on. Does that concern you? The government books will be under pressure. 

Jacinda Ardern: Again, we always look at our economic management, our financial position, with an eye to being in the shaky isles. That's why I think, even going into this global pandemic, you see that our debt levels - relative to GDP, when you compare us to the rest of the world - were very, very low. Because we always manage our books with that in the back of our minds. And that has served us well. And I think you see, from the ratings agency, that that has served us well. 

Media: Prime Minister, does New Zealand consider joining the call from its Five Eyes partners - Canada, the UK and Australia - to condemn China's actions with regard to Hong Kong? I know you issued a statement this weekend, but in a separate statement...? 

Jacinda Ardern: We did. You said the Five Eyes - my recollection was it was Canada, Australia and the UK - the US made a statement, we made a statement. Not everything is always done under that Five Eyes banner. Sometimes it will merely be a manner of sequencing different working hours. But the Deputy Prime Minister, our Minister of Foreign Affairs, did put out a statement. He acknowledged the concerns that New Zealand had. And, very similar to some of the statements we've seen from other partners. 

Media: One aspect of that statement was much more critical of China and much more on the nose - ours was somewhat more circumspect. Do you still endorse the spirit of their statement? 

Jacinda Ardern: I wouldn't have considered it circumspect at all. I thought it was very plain-speaking. I think the Deputy Prime Minister rightly set out, on behalf of New Zealand, that there were concerns around amendments based on national security that weren't involving those from within Hong Kong. So that doesn't undermine our position, which is in support of a 2-systems policy. But we were concerned about whether or not this policy is challenging to that. 

Media: Prime Minister, earlier on, you compared our restrictions, or New Zealand's restrictions, to Australia's, suggesting that New Zealand is now better placed than Australia in terms of having fewer restrictions in place. Do you believe that is the case? And is it because of how harsh the initial lockdown restrictions were here, as opposed to Australia? 

Jacinda Ardern: We've always had - look, really, that's just an acknowledgement of this place and time, relative comparison to where we are. We have had a policy of go-hard, go-early. The benefit of that is now we see ourselves in a better position to be able to come out. Yes, with factoring in risk, but actually coming out in a way that opens up our economy more quickly than we otherwise might be able to. 

Media: What did you make of the buyout of Stuff Ltd today? Does that make it easier for the government to turn the tables in terms of supporting them? 

Jacinda Ardern: It's always been important to us to make sure that we have a strong media sector. It's in the interests of democracy. So, from our perspective, I think what we've seen today - both with Mediaworks and with Stuff, underscores the work we need to do on supporting the sector and supporting local journalism. 

Media: Labour's confidence-in-supply agreement with the Greens commits to overhaul the welfare system. Do you believe that you've adequately delivered on that? 

Jacinda Ardern: We have made significant changes and, you know, I think it's only right, in the context of that question, I reflect that, in our first 100 days, we saw a $5.5 billion investment in things like the family tax credit, establishing the winter energy payment, and since then changes like indexing benefits to wages, over time, will have a considerable impact on income adequacy for those who are on government support. Couple that with the doubling of the Winter Energy Payment to cushion the blow of COVID, and the fact that we have continued to signal that we will keep moving, but we'll do it in such a way that is sustainable, that we don't see a loss of those changes. And it will make a big difference - and already is - to those who have been on government support. 

Media: Prime Minister, if a decision isn't made on finding a delivery partner for the light rail in Auckland just before the election, will Labour campaign on delivering the light rail in its next term? 

Jacinda Ardern: Yeah. Our focus on getting Auckland moving has not changed. Our focus on transport from the city to the airport has not changed. But of course, I'll wait until I have Cabinet decisions to speak in any more detail on that. 

Media: Just on the $3 billion infrastructure fund - what kind of assurances can you give that it's not just going to be grey infrastructure, I guess - roads, asphalt - 'cause there is some concern that green infrastructure's going to be bypassed in the rush to get shovel-ready projects going. 

Jacinda Ardern: First of all, I would look to the Budget, which had an absolute focus on - jobs, jobs, jobs. And with that focus, we were looking at ways we could solve challenges we already had. We already had challenges in funding, sore we're funding 8,000 new public houses. We had challenges with the issue of income adequacy and food security. We expanded Food In Schools, which creates 2,000 jobs. We had issues with the cleanliness and ongoing degradation of our waterways. So we're funding fencing and restoration of wetlands, and also predator control. This is where we have used COVID as an opportunity to boost funding for areas that will make a material difference to our environment going forward. On infrastructure, I'd say that, actually, when it comes to the way that we will focus on infrastructure, you already saw in the upgrade programme the way that we've balanced finding those shovel-ready projects. But also, future-proofing them. And a number of those projects which improve our public transport offering and, for instance, double-laning and bringing in the ability for cycle- and walkways - we actually already identified. So that's been a big part of what we already had in the $12 billion upgrade. 

Media: Prime Minister, neither parliament's backing a select committee to back in. Has the Epidemic Response Committee finished? 

Jacinda Ardern: What I have signalled previously is that that was a committee for a period where we weren't able to sit, we didn't have select committees, when there wasn't a question time. Now, we have business-as-usual but, ultimately, I'll leave that to the Leader of the House to deal with that side of business. 

Media: Will it bow on this week? 

Jacinda Ardern: I don't see the role that it needs to play, now that parliament is back to normal. We do want to make sure that other opposition members on other select committees are having a voice on the COVID response, and they will have the chance to question through the estimates process through other select committees. But ultimately, that is for the Leader of the House to deal with what happens with the Epidemic Response Committee from here. 

Media: Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader has been criticised by some minority groups, including some vital partners in a post-March 15 community strengthening for displaying a Make America Great Again hat in his office.

My question is - do you consider the MAGA hat to be a symbol of oppression? 

Jacinda Ardern: It's not for me to determine how other people feel around different symbols or memorabilia. I can't determine how those things make other people feel. I think, ultimately, though, as politicians, we're judged on our record. And that's what we campaign on. That's what people look to when they make a determination of whether they support us or not. And I'm very happy to stand on the record that we have as a government over this past three years.

OK. Thank you, everyone. 

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