Kiwi leaders spar over Samoa's COVID-19 response

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has clashed with her National Party rival Judith Collins over how Samoa responded to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Speaking during the leaders’ debate this week, Collins claimed that her rival and Labour Party leader was being disrespectful towards Samoa over its COVID-19 response.

She said the New Zealand government was slow and “didn’t go fast and heard and early” in response to COVID-19.

“We didn’t go fast and hard and early. Samoa went a month earlier than us and other countries,” she said.

But Prime Minister Ardern fired back, saying the claim was “factually incorrect.”

In response, Collins raised her voice: “Samoa did so. It did so. And actually, don’t disrespect Samoa. They did it. They kept it out. They kept it out. 

“They kept COVID-19 out and they kept it out and by the way, they test anybody who wants to get on a plane to go there and we have not done that.

“I don’t take kindly to people disrespecting the hard work of the Samoans. They had to take it seriously because of measles.”

In response, Ardern said when it comes to New Zealand’s Pacific neighbours, “we’ve worked hand-in-glove as a region”. 

She added that Collins’ claims were contradicted by what her National party had in fact done.

“What I’m hearing from Judith tonight is directly contrary to the criticism – that we should have opened the borders to Australia and China early,” she said. 

“That we should have lifted our restrictions early. We have been criticised by the National Party every step of the way for our [COVID-19] response.

“Now when you are in a pandemic, you cannot afford to change your mind every five minutes. Every leader at National has had a different position and it has been wrong.”

Following the debate, Collins said she objected to Ardern's questioning of Samoa's response because it felt it "very possessive" and she is "very, very fond of Samoa”.

"Until [COVID-19], I was in Samoa very frequently.

"Where she said that they hadn't done all these things that I said they'd done, well they have - and by the way – they've never had a COVID-19 case.

"They certainly did shut their borders, but they had travel restrictions much earlier than New Zealand."

Collins said during the 30 September leader's debate Samoa "closed its borders a month before New Zealand did".

But a News1 "Fact Check" found that Samoa introduced a number of measures to try to limit the importation of COVID-19 early in the pandemic before New Zealand, including banning all cruise ships from entering the country on 22 February.

Samoa announced a number of measures on 28 February after New Zealand confirmed its first COVID-19 case that day, including a reduction in the number of international flights to the country, and requiring inbound travellers from high-risk countries to self-quarantine for at least 14 days in a Covid-19 country before entering Samoa.

Travellers from 10 other countries were required to undergo a medical examination within three days before travelling to Samoa. In terms of full border closure – the two countries essentially closed their borders on the same day.

Ardern announced that New Zealand's borders would close to all but returning residents and citizens as of midnight on 19 March, and Samoa enacted the same measures on 20 March.

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