Jacinda Ardern says the Government is building a plan as the threat of Omicron looms, with measures such as vaccines, new medicines and the traffic light system meaning New Zealand won't have to use widespread lockdowns in 2022.
In her opening remarks at the Labour caucus retreat in New Plymouth, the Prime Minister said New Zealand faced a different challenge with Omicron, however, "we know the tools that will make a difference and it is not insurmountable, but it is a different foe than what we had before".
Watch the PM set out NZ's plan for dealing with Omicron - live on TVNZ1 and 1News.co.nz at 1.15pm
"We know Omicron is in every corner of the world at the moment, and we also know there will be other variants. And we know we will experience in New Zealand cases at a level that we haven’t experienced before."
She said: "We've given ourselves time to start that booster campaign and to start with vaccination for our children, and that's a position many other countries aren’t in.
"For the most part vaccination will change the game. For the most part, people will be able to recover at home.
"It will not be without its challenges though. We are facing a trickier enemy given it keeps evolving. But in my view, we can move into 2022 feeling resolute of what is required.
"We know that if we build a plan it will and can make an absolute difference, and that is exactly what we are doing."
Vaccines, antivirals and the traffic light system mean New Zealand "can do things different" in 2022, Ardern told her MPs.
"It means we can keep moving forward, it means we don't have to use the widespread lockdowns that I know people found so difficult in 2021. It means we can keep making progress."
The economy and free trade agreements
In terms of the Government's other plans for 2022, Ardern said it would grow skills and meet labour needs, as well as assessing the needs of business and expanding free trade agreements (FTAs).
Many businesses around the country were grappling with skill and labour shortages due to the border being closed.
"Our eye is on the prize with the European Union this year," she said, in reference to a potential FTA.
"I was in talks over summer, so that is an agreement I know will continue to make a difference for our exporters."
Priorities for 2022
"There are other issues we know we cannot put off and we have been making progress on," she said.
That included creating an equitable health system, with significant reforms on the way, a "sharp focus" on mental health and putting climate change at the centre of the Covid recovery.
She also said they would focus on lifting more children out of poverty and keeping up the "pace" of the housing programme.
There would be a focus on "safely reopening with the world", Ardern said.
"You will see a travel programme begin again for the Government, and for New Zealanders and for our exporters as well."
The Prime Minister's speech came after questions were raised over a swift decision to pause MIQ room releases for March and April, due to the sizeable rise in returnees travelling back with Omicron.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins addressed media on Wednesday in light of the decision.
He also said New Zealand would still be moving to a self-isolation model, but there was a question mark over when that will begin.
The Government pushed back home isolation options to late February. It had previously been January 17 for New Zealanders coming from Australia.
National's Chris Bishop said New Zealanders deserved "a proper plan from the Government in light of Omicron".
"The impact of ongoing uncertainty and delays on Kiwis abroad should not be underestimated. The anger, pain and heartbreak is palpable."
ACT's David Seymour said the Government needed to prioritise and ensure vulnerable people had their booster shot, as an outbreak of Omicron was only "a question of when".
"What we're doing is futile, it's going to be out. We might get a few extra days, maybe weeks, does that outweigh the cost we are putting on people?" he said, referring to MIQ pauses.
He said it was time to start letting people isolate at home, a move for New Zealanders in Australia that was due to start this month but was pushed back due to Omicron.
"What we do in terms of continuing or not continuing MIQ will make a minimal difference," Seymour said.
"It's going to leak out of MIQ, everyone accepts that. Would it leak more rapidly out of home isolation? Probably. Would that make a big difference in terms of when it gets out? We'll never know but I suspect it might be a difference of days anyway - on the other hand you allow a whole lot of people to reunite and reconnect."