Jacinda Ardern says she understands the sentiment of thousands who turned out to Auckland's Black Lives Matter protest, but that social distancing rules were in place to protect people's health amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Thousands gathered at Auckland's Aotea Square yesterday, joining large numbers of Americans in protesting the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd who died after police officer Derek Chauvin pinned him to the ground by his neck for over eight minutes.
In New Zealand, gatherings are limited to 100 and people should keep distance between strangers - those rules were not followed in yesterday's rally.
"I don't want to stop peaceful protest any more than I want to stop large funerals and tangihanga and weddings being able to come back, but none of the rules we have are there without a reason, they're there to protect people's health," Ms Ardern told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning.
"Obviously that wasn't followed here and I have to continue to say publicly the rules are there for a reason, we want people to follow them for a reason and this was a clear breach of them."
Ms Ardern said when the rules were put out, there was an expectation that people would not gather.
"No one wants a second wave that's why the restrictions are in place and they're still there for now so that we can get that extra certainty that we're in a position to lift restrictions.
"I utterly understand the sentiment, but we are in a global pandemic and I would hate for there to be an outbreak caused by someone who felt really moved to go and share their view and their opinion to then become ill. That's exactly what we're trying to prevent."
Yesterday microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles said she was "absolutely gutted" that people flouted the restrictions, writing on Twitter that anyone who didn't practice social distancing should self-isolate for 14 days.
When asked if she too was concerned, Ms Ardern said she was.
"If we had one person, one person in that crowd [who had Covid-19], you know, just think what could happen there because we've seen it before.
"The subject matter is another subject again, and I understand the strength of feeling and I understand the sentiment and I understand that sense of urgency that everyone felt, but my job is to look after the country's health as well and so that's what I am going to keep doing."
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has said the breaching of Alert Level 2 rules at the protests should have resulted in prosecution for the organisers.
"If they condone that and there's no prosecution of the organisers of these two events then why are we not at Alert Level 1?" he told RNZ.
Enforcement decisions at such events were up to police, Ms Ardern said, but adding that they continued to take an educational and warning approach to alert level breaches.
When asked where she stands on the protests, Ms Ardern said this morning she'd like to think the aftermath of the Christchurch terrorist attack demonstrated that as a nation, if we see racism, hatred or intolerance, that we call it out.
"That's who we are as a nation, we don't for a moment pretend to be perfect but we have always been, I think, a country that have been willing to acknowledge where we have issues and where we need to continue to address them," she said.
"And so equally, that means as a nation, we call it out wherever we see that in a gloablised world and so I too say the same.
"I think I stand with everyone else in being horrified in what we've seen but at the same time, we need to show that and express that solidarity in a way makes sure we're looking after one-another as well."