PM could miss Budget and US trip as Covid-19 hits her household

ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Grant Robertson sat down with Stuff to talk inflation, the budget and why Labour is sticking to its guns on long-term spending. (Video first published April 24, 2022)

ANALYSIS: Donald Trump and Boris Johnson’s infections with Covid-19 were huge news when they happened in 2020.

Now as Omicron has sent case numbers up and restrictions have eased thanks to the partial-protection of vaccines, political leaders get Covid-19 all the time.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was infected in March, and his challenger for the role Anthony Albanese came down with the virus a few weeks ago. The presidents of Poland, Mexico, and Pakistan have all caught Covid-19 twice. And in New Zealand, a wide array of MPs have spent weeks at home after testing positive – including National leader Christopher Luxon.

This makes sense. Politicians travel around a lot and meet a wide variety of people, heightening the risk of infection. They are generally vaccinated, but the vaccine does not guarantee a lack of infection – it just lowers the chances of you going to the hospital because of one.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s partner Clarke Gayford has tested positive for Covid-19.
Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s partner Clarke Gayford has tested positive for Covid-19.

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But that normalcy does not make it any more disruptive. Albanese’s Covid-19 infection saw him miss a valuable week on the campaign trail, with some blaming post-Covid brain fade for some of his falters in press conferences.

At this point, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has not herself tested positive for Covid-19. Her partner Clarke Gayford did yesterday, however, forcing her into isolation as a household contact.

If Ardern manages to avoid getting sick herself, which is entirely possible, the missed week will not be too much of a problem. She will be out of isolation on Monday, May 16.

Missing the budget would be a serious blow for Ardern.
MONIQUE FORD/Stuff
Missing the budget would be a serious blow for Ardern.

It’s a sitting week in Budget season, packed with pre-budget announcements that Ardern would like to go to – and a scene-setting business speech in Auckland.

But Ardern will be able to attend the house virtually and make the speech virtually. This is far from ideal but is not disastrous.

What could be disastrous would be Ardern testing positive nearer to the end of her isolation period. That would reset the clock back to either her first test or first symptoms.

This could see Ardern missing the Government’s biggest day of the year – the Budget, which is set down for May 19.

Missing the Budget would be far worse than missing a regular sitting week. It’s a day that is months in the making, with a series of huge announcements to be made that governments of the day generally hope will drive the political conversation for the coming months. While Finance Minister Grant Robertson is the central figure of the day, Ardern would usually be key, too.

Soon after the Budget, Ardern is travelling to the United States. She is set to give a Harvard Commencement speech on May 26.

While Ardern could catch Covid-19 at the end of Gayford’s seven-day isolation and still (just) fly to Harvard in time, she will have a packed calendar of other events in the US she won’t want to miss. Plus, many households have seen Covid infections take weeks to spread through entire families, so there is a possibility that the PM catches Covid-19 fairly late, perhaps from her daughter rather than her fiancé.

This busy month of politics would make weeks in isolation a massive headache for the Prime Minister. But she would hardly be alone. Almost 6000 people reported a positive result in the last 24 hours, sending a multitude of houses into isolation. Premier House is just one amongst the many.