NZ election all about COVID-19: Ardern

Coronavirus is the biggest challenge that NZ will face for decades to come, Jacinda Ardern says.
Coronavirus is the biggest challenge that NZ will face for decades to come, Jacinda Ardern says.

After unveiling Labour's first policy of the election campaign, Jacinda Ardern says Kiwis should expect a "COVID election campaign" revolving around the country's ravaged economy.

On Saturday at her party's campaign launch in Auckland, Ms Ardern announced a $NZ311 million ($A287 million) scheme that will see hiring bonuses paid to businesses hiring out-of-work Kiwis.

It's hardly transformational or inspiring stuff, but this is the age Ms Ardern finds herself in.

Admitting previous plans are out the window, the Labour leader says the campaign will be all COVID, all the time.

"No one wants it this way," she said.

"It's more an acceptance that naturally, that is how this will turn out to be.

"Of course we all had plans for a very different election campaign but the reality is, this is the biggest challenge that New Zealand will face for decades to come.

"It's only natural and in fact it's only right that we talk about our plan to respond, recover and rebuild."

Ms Ardern will spend her Sunday campaigning in her home electorate of Mount Albert, a safe-as-houses seat previously held by Helen Clark.

Ms Ardern has been given top marks by Kiwis for her government's response to the pandemic.

She enjoys record popularity after a tough-but-successful lockdown which eliminated COVID-19 from the community and allowed the domestic economy to re-open.

Now, all eyes are turning to how New Zealand will re-engage with the world.

The NZ border remains shut to all but Kiwi citizens and regular Australian residents, though there is speculation a re-opening with the Cook Islands could come as soon as next week.

Ms Ardern says Kiwis will know plenty more about the government's economic plans before they vote.

"The health response is going to drive just how much New Zealand's economy is affected ... (but) it's not enough to keep looking backwards," she said.

"We have to demonstrate where we'll take New Zealand and how we will support New Zealanders.

"We want to keep that unemployment rate down but we also want to make the most of this opportunity. We have a chance now to make sure that we are building back better."

Australian Associated Press