PM says NZ was prepared for Covid-19 despite Kiwi expert saying world wasn't taking pandemic threat seriously

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has responded to a world renowned Kiwi virologist who says the world didn't take a pandemic threat seriously.

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Dr Robert Webster has been warning about the threat of a pandemic for 15 years. Source: Sunday

Dr Robert Webster is an avian influenza authority who has been sounding the alarm for 15 years about a global pandemic risk. 

"The world did not take science seriously. The scientists have been telling the world that there would be a pandemic like this, or perhaps even more severe for many years and they have ignored the scientists," he told TVNZ1's Sunday programme.

"I think that they're starting to listen now. Once the economy collapses and we go into a recession then there's notice being taken.

"I hope it doesn't take lines and lines of coffins like 1918 before the world really prepares, because that could happen. I hope that Italy is not the future for the US or NZ, but time will tell," the now US-based Dr Webster said.

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Dr Robert Webster did praise the NZ Government's lockdown response.

However, Ms Ardern believes New Zealand has been taking the coronavirus pandemic seriously from the start.

"I think everyone who has been sitting at home in lockdown for several days, being in one of the first countries to go into lockdown with the number of cases that we have, I think everyone would see that we are taking this very seriously," she told Sunday.

The Prime Minister was asked if in the years leading up to Covid-19, had New Zealand taken the threat of a pandemic seriously.

"Of course we had a pandemic plan that was made operational in January, that was produced in June of 2017," Ms Ardern responded.

"So, we've had a pandemic plan obviously for some time and have had national stores of what we would need for pandemics for quite some time."

"We have a number of experts we are drawing on who have been in preparation for situations like this for some time."

The Prime Minister believes that, "down the track will be a time for reflection on whether we have done everything we could have done, but right now I'm focused on the action rather than the reflection".

Despite his criticisms of governments around for the world for their lack pandemic preparedness, Dr Webster praised Ms Ardern's handling of the crisis.

"Hopefully if we abide by social distancing we will buy enough time to get vaccines in place," he said.

"I think NZ's in a great position and I think they've made all the right moves and done it at exactly the right times perhaps even earlier than any other country so I think NZ's a great place to be right now.

"I might get myself into trouble - I prefer the political scene in NZ. I admire the NZ PM, she's absolutely fabulous. I can't say the same thing about our president in the US, sorry," he said.