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New Zealand's Ardern prepares for virus variants

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  • Jacinda Ardern
    Jacinda Ardern
    40th Prime Minister of New Zealand

"All of our planning around COVID, we have built into it the possibility of variants in the future," Ardern said in an interview for the upcoming Reuters Next conference, in which she also discussed online radicalization and alliances.

"That is why we are maintaining levels of public health protections. It's why we've maintained requirements at our border."

Ardern's government, under mounting pressure from the tourism industry and other businesses, announced earlier this week it would reopen its borders to fully vaccinated international travelers from April 30.

On violent extremism and radicalization online, Ardern said tech giants like Meta's Facebook and world leaders needed to do "much more" to stamp it out.

Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron launched a global initiative to end online hate in 2019 after a white supremacist killed 51 people at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch while live-streaming his rampage on Facebook.

This Christchurch Call initiative has been supported by more than 50 countries, international organizations and tech firms, including Facebook, Google, Twitter and Microsoft.

"The next challenge though, is to go further again," she said, adding that the next step was to focus on prevention, looking at how people are finding or coming across hateful or terror-motivating content online and perhaps becoming radicalized.

She also expressed support on for New Zealand's Five Eyes alliance with Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States, but said her country would also consider other economic alliances in the Pacific region.

New Zealand has faced increasing pressure from some elements among Western allies over its reluctance to use the Five Eyes intelligence and security alliance to criticize its top trading partner, China.

"We do have important alliances we are part of and we consider fit for purpose and we consider need to be used for the functions for which they were originally established," Ardern added.

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