Covid 19 coronavirus: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern defends stretched managed isolation voucher system

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is defending the stretched managed isolation voucher system and has asked people no longer planning to return home to give up their vouchers to other travellers.

Ardern said there have been stories of people not being able to secure a managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facility booking before Christmas.

She said it was “completely understandable ” that Kiwis wanted to come home for Christmas.

But she said the Government could not just turn on new spaces.

She said the MIQ system was already stretched.

Ardern asked that anyone with a MIQ voucher who would not be using it over Christmas to let officials know so that space can be freed up.

She encouraged people overseas who might have missed out to keep checking.

“This is a large undertaking.”

Once New Zealand was through the busy spell, supply and demand would be more evenly matched.

Ardern said there was not “limitless capacity” in New Zealand. It required police and Defence Force personnel – there are 4000 people working across the system.

“This is a finely balanced system,” she said, warning against stretching resources.

That would bring more risk, she said.

New Zealand was well placed compared to other countries, she said.

“New Zealand is a great place to be right now”.

Ardern said there was a range of airlines that Kiwis were using to get home and more work was being done to link up officials with the airlines.

Ardern also said talks are progressing on a travel bubble with the Cook Islands, with NZ officials to visit the area on November 14.

However there was no timeframe for an announcement.

Officials would need to report back to Cabinet before things got underway.

Anything that was done would be done so with the safety of New Zealanders in mind, she said.

There are four new cases of Covid-19 to report today, all imported cases in managed isolation facilities and no more community cases.

But a person who was a casual contact of a positive case on a flight from Auckland to Wellington has started feeling unwell and is awaiting tests results later today.

Ardern said it “should be a given” that quarantine facility workers were wearing a mask while using transport.

These workers’ roles was a “thankless task” and she didn’t want to be seen to be criticising them.

She said she still wore a mask on planes at alert level 1, and she encouraged other people to do so as well.

There was no order in place to make people wear a mask on public transport, but she was continuing to encourage their use.

PM on US election result

On Donald Trump, Ardern said it was important to respect the democratic institutions of the US and it was for the people in the race to choose when they conceded.

But she pointed out she has already congratulated president-elect Joe Biden.

On Saturday she congratulated Biden and his deputy Kamala Harris on their victory in the election, as well as acknowledging outgoing President Trump.

“New Zealand has enjoyed positive and co-operative relations with the United States over the period of the Trump Administration, especially in the Indo-Pacific and Pacific Island regions.”

Ardern said today that it was up to the people of the US to make their own judgments.

She had not spoken to Biden yet – but didn’t expect to talk to him so soon.

But she would be looking to pass on her congratulations as soon as she could.

If Biden was to restore America’s membership of the Paris Climate agreement this would be good for international common ground.

Govt help for small businesses

Finance Minister Grant Robertson says 100,000 business have taken up a loan subsidy so far – the average is $17,000 per business.

The Government has made changes to this scheme, he told reporters today.

He said it will support small businesses with access to finance.

The updated scheme has been extended for three years – it was due to expire at the end of this year.

The interest-free period has also been extended, from one year to two years interest-free.
And the Government has broadened what the loan money can be spent on.

Speaking to a business audience last week, the Prime Minister said expanding the small business loan scheme and launching the flexi-wage subsidy programme were top of the Government’s to-do list before Christmas.

These were both Labour’s pre-election policies.

The small business loan scheme has been taken up by more than a quarter of New Zealand businesses.

It entitles eligible businesses to a $10,000 loan, plus an additional $1800 per full-time employee. The loan is interest-free if it’s paid back within a year, and 3 per cent a year every year after that.

Applications for this scheme were due to close on December 31 this year – but Labour had promised to extend that by a further three years.

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