The Government revealed its plan in August for reopening to the world. A self-isolation pilot will soon get underway for 150 vaccinated arrivals, and next year returnees deemed "low-risk" won't need to spend two weeks in managed isolation.
"The difference between the Government's plan is that we have talked about high vaccination rates in the first quarter of 2022. We have also prioritised New Zealanders here not facing undue and unnecessary additional restrictions to manage what would inevitably be a rate of cases at the border," Ardern said.
"I refer them to Canada. They removed all border restrictions for citizens who are double vaccinated and in some cases they are facing a significant fourth wave and it has meant that they have domestic restrictions.
"There is no free lunch. You do have to make tradeoffs. We've decided to prioritise domestically trying to get the settings as low as possible for New Zealanders, and in time we will see changes at our border."
National leader Judith Collins asked how Ardern could reconcile with Kiwis overseas "being forced to watch dying family members take their final breaths by Zoom because her Government was so slow to get the vaccine rolled out".
Ardern acknowledged how "incredibly difficult" it is for people stuck overseas, and for Kiwis desperate to travel overseas to visit dying loved ones, for example, but haven't been able to secure a room upon their return.
Almost 4000 more rooms were released on Tuesday night but those desperate to book a space found themselves logging on to join an impossibly long queue of more than 30,000.
"Every member in this House will have sympathy for family members who have been separated by COVID the world over," Ardern said.
"We do have a process that enables, in those situations, New Zealanders to get to the top of any waitlist to be able to make it home to see their family members."
Ardern said it's important the Government is "ensuring you've got your domestic settings right and protecting New Zealanders at home. The member instead wants to open the floodgate without getting it right first. That is rushed and it is risky".
ACT leader David Seymour asked Ardern why domestic settings to control COVID-19 were still being worked on after 18 months since coronavirus emerged in the world.
Ardern said the Delta variant changed the game.
"If the member thinks domestic settings based on Alpha would be any good right now then obviously he hasn't looked at what's happening around the world. In fact, the settings for vaccines under Alpha are vastly different to now.
"You have to adapt and the benefit of the New Zealand approach is that we've done that and we've done it very successfully."
Seymour asked: "Has the Prime Minister only just realised that there are new variants of COVID, and if not, why is she so unprepared for them?"
Ardern wasn't impressed.
"Mr Speaker, do I even have to answer that?"
House Speaker Trevor Mallard said he could have ruled out Seymour's remarks as ironic, but he settled on Ardern being "absolutely capable of answering".
"Of course the entire global community is aware of the range of variants that exist," Ardern said. "But if the member is suggesting that we can base a research and evidence-based approach on a variant where most of the research around transmissibility, around infectivity, around hospitalisation, has only emerged since the latter part of the year."
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