Jacinda Ardern says Niue is the "natural" next option to open a travel bubble with and that she is relatively open-minded in exploring potential bubbles with other countries.
Ardern also revealed this afternoon the decision-making factors in how the Government would choose when and which countries New Zealand could potentially open to, and how the vaccination roll out impacts that.
"Let’s get on with it," was the Prime Minister's departing comments during her speech to Business New Zealand ahead of next week's Budget.
During the speech, Ardern also announced she would visit Australia in early July to lead a trade and promotional delegation and described New Zealand's relationship with the US as "deepening" after the change in administration.
"Niue is the natural next addition," Ardern said, ahead of the second bubble opening with the Cook Islands later this month, adding to the current arrangement with Australia.
"Beyond that we are relatively open-minded, and I do anticipate there will be other countries we can explore opportunities with."
She said that travel bubbles do not come "without risk and complication, and the bar we’ve set for whom we can safety operate such an arrangement with is high".
Ardern said the country was in 'phase two' — meaning a partial re-opening — "while we work on ensuring we lift the numbers of New Zealanders that have the individual armour of the vaccine".
"Here, high levels of uptake are critical."
Vaccination and travel
Ardern revealed elements in the decision-making process in the potential opening up of New Zealand's borders.
"The first question we are asking is: Do we need to have completed our vaccine rollout in order to open up our borders beyond the bubble arrangements we already have?
"Will people who’ve been vaccinated in other countries be able to come in even if we haven’t finished our vaccine rollout?"
"The answer is, 'Possibly,'" Ardern said.
She said the Government would be relying heavily on emerging evidence "about how effective vaccines are in preventing not just symptoms of the disease, but transmission between vaccinated individuals".
Ardern described the data available currently as promising.
"A recent study in the UK found that the likelihood of household transmission was halved where an infected person had been vaccinated, on top of the vaccine being 90 per cent effective at stopping infection in the first place.
"No vaccine is fail-safe," Ardern added. "We have had our own recent example of a fully vaccinated border worker contracting Covid-19."
She said the second issue is the Covid-19 variants.
"At this stage Pfizer is holding up well, but our reopening plan will need the flexibility to continue highlighting and responding rapidly to countries where variants emerge that might pose a risk to the immunity we’ve built up in New Zealand, or are working to build up.
"That’s why, as work continues internationally on vaccine passports, New Zealand will remain actively involved in those discussions, while also considering other tools for managing and monitoring risk at the border."
New Zealand vaccine rollout
Ardern said Government is aiming to vaccinate every New Zealander who is able to be vaccinated by the end of this year.
She said with the planning of New Zealand's rollout out, "there is some risk that we’ll have a period between shipments when we run low, or out of vaccine temporarily".
"If this does happen, it would be prior to the larger deliveries we are expecting in July, but does speak to the difficulty in scaling up smoothly and managing eligibility, demand and supply."
New Zealand's rollout is scheduled to ramp up in July to the general population, with a goal to be completed by the end of 2021.
Ardern revealed on Monday that Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi would be outlining "the case for change" in New Zealand’s immigration policy.
"Let me be clear. The Government is looking to shift the balance away from low-skilled work, towards attracting high-skilled migrants and addressing genuine skills shortages in order to improve productivity."
Travel to Australia
Ardern announced she is travelling to Australia in early July to lead a trade and promotional delegation to Australia – New Zealand’s first since the emergence of Covid-19.
"I will be looking to further strengthen business ties with our trans-Tasman partners," she said.
Trade Minister Damien O’Connor will also travel next month to London and Brussels "to progress negotiations for New Zealand’s free trade agreements with the UK and EU".
"I can also assure you that when our key trading partners over and above Australia look to re-open their borders and we have greater movement between countries, I will look to lead delegations into Europe, the United States, China and the wider Asia-Pacific," Ardern said.
She made special mention of the US.
"With a change of administration there, and a deepening relationship with President Joe Biden across a range of issues, I intend to actively pursue an enhanced trade relationship with the US over the coming term," she said.
Ardern said it would be a "continuation of our work to support the recovery, but will see our response become more targeted".
"We will continue to focus on our key priorities: keeping New Zealanders safe from Covid, accelerating the recovery and rebuild, and laying the foundations for the future by addressing long term challenges such as housing, climate change and child wellbeing.
"We need to be aspirational and have a plan, but we also need to be disciplined and prioritise," she said.
Ardern admitted Government's commitments would not all be met in the Budget.