Omicron will be a ‘different foe’, PM Jacinda Ardern warns NZ

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Preparing for omicron
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the government is preparing for an omicron outbreak in the New Zealand community. Image: RNZ

By Katie Scotcher, RNZ News political reporter

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is warning New Zealand’s covid-19 case numbers in 2022 will be unlike anything seen here before.

Jacinda Ardern today delivered her first speech of the year — to Labour MPs gathered in New Plymouth for their annual caucus retreat.

The speech was largely focused on covid-19 and the omicron variant, which she described as a “different foe”.

“We know … that omicron is in every corner of the world at the moment. And we also know that there will be other variants. And we know that we will experience in New Zealand cases at a level that we haven’t experienced before.”

Ardern stressed the government had and was continuing to prepare for an omicron outbreak in the community.

“But it will not be without its challenges, though, we are facing a trickier enemy given it keeps evolving,” she said.

“But in my view, and I’m sure in the view of everyone in this room, we can move into 2022 feeling resolute about what is required, because we’ve seen what is required and confident because on reflection of what we’ve gone through, we know that when we build a plan, that it will end can make an absolute difference and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Progress needed in other areas
Despite the challenges thrown up by the pandemic, Ardern stressed the government must continue to make progress in other areas.

Its attention would be on keeping the economy “humming”, progressing health reforms, lifting children out of poverty, as well as having a sharp focus on climate change and mental health, Ardern said.

The government was also looking to expand its trade arrangements, with Ardern participating in EU trade talks over summer.

“Our eye is on the prize with EU this year. I was in talks even over summer, so that’s an agreement that I know will continue to make a difference for exporters and will be a big focus.”

Work on the EU trade deal will work alongside the government’s plan to re-open the borders, Ardern said.

There would be an increased amount of international travel for the government and exporters in 2022, she said.

“Labour has demonstrated our ability to manage challenges and change and will continue to demonstrate our ability to manage challenges and change when it comes to climate, housing, poverty, and everything that we continue to face as a nation.”

Northland to join orange setting
Prime Minister Ardern later announced Northland would join the rest of the country in the orange traffic light setting from 11.59pm tonight, and signalled plans for omicron.

Cabinet ministers met yesterday to assess the traffic light settings across the country, including whether Northland would drop to the orange setting.

Ardern announced this afternoon the region would change settings tonight.

“Vaccination rates have continued to increase in Northland and are now at 89 percent first dose. The easing of the Auckland boundary over summer did not drive an increase in cases so we believe it is safe for Northland to join the rest of the country at orange,” she said.

Testing has found 39 new community cases of covid-19 and one new possible omicron case in Palmerston North, the Ministry of Health announced today.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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