Opinion: One of the toughest weeks for PM at Covid helm

It’s been one of the toughest weeks for the Prime Minister at the Covid helm.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

I spend a lot of time sitting in the theatrette inside the Beehive listening to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Dr Ashley Bloomfield talk, in the same seat with the same group of Press Gallery journalists.

On Monday, it felt different.

On Monday, we thought the Prime Minister would stand at the podium and announce Auckland was going to Level 2 with a few extra precautions. But, in the days leading up it was clear Level 2 wasn’t on the table. What was also clear is that Auckland needed a nugget to keep going.

They got that in the form of picnics and the return of more kids to ECE (as long as you could get in). It was a strange middle ground and a confused message about being in Level 3.  

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The Prime Minister is very good at explaining things simply, but it was convoluted and as details didn’t come up until Tuesday, there was a void of information.

We haven’t seen her under pressure like this for a while. Auckland is still in lockdown and the picnics may only soften the blow for some. There’s probably a good dose of fatigue at play here too - a long, long seven weeks.

Add to that a bit of cabin fever in the Press Gallery and long hours for political reporters. The Wellington bubble has never felt more removed.

After 18 months in our little fortress, New Zealand changed tack this week and ditching the elimination strategy hasn’t been an easy sell for everyone. It’s no longer realistic to get to zero before restrictions are eased.  We are now reliant on vaccines to protect us and the gaps in our vaccine coverage are shining through.

The Prime Minister has gone on a last-minute vaccine tour to some Level 2 regional areas in the North Island to try and get people to have the jab.

We were expecting her at the 1pm press conference on Thursday and then – surprise - she’s in another city. She didn’t want media there which seems unusual if you are trying to raise awareness of something (but I would say that, wouldn’t I).

It’s rare for us not to know which city the Prime Minister is in – especially at the moment when the Government has created a situation where the 1pm press conferences are the only opportunity to get official information on camera.  It is the first time the Prime Minister has been out of Wellington in weeks because of level restrictions.

Parliament is in recess next week too. The Prime Minister will be keen to reset over the weekend.