Jacinda Ardern has left New Zealand for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic, taking flight on a trade mission to Singapore and Japan.
The New Zealand prime minister is heading abroad on the six-day trip, eager to remind would-be travellers and investors her country is ready to reconnect with the world.
“This is a chance to be out there talking about the fact that New Zealand is open,” Ms Ardern told journalists in a pre-trip briefing.
Japan is New Zealand’s fourth biggest export market, and Singapore its fifth.
After two years in New Zealand, Ms Ardern intends on travelling overseas several times this year, including trips to Europe, the United States and Australia.
This week, she will hold bilateral meetings with counterparts in both Singapore and Japan, and side events on a trade-oriented trip.
Around a dozen business leaders will travel in the prime ministerial plane to Asia, including executives from dairy giant Fonterra, kiwifruit marketer Zespri and Auckland and Christchurch airports.
With Trade Minister Damien O’Connor also in tow, the group will spend two days in both Singapore and Tokyo, and a day either side travelling on the RNZAF plane.
Travelling in the COVID-19 era is not without its risks, particularly as Ms Ardern has not had the virus.
Anyone who catches COVID-19 while overseas will have to isolate in place for a week, but Ms Ardern said the risk was worth it.
“Our view is that now’s the time to get out and about, to support our exporters, so we’re willing to take on board the risks,” she said.
“It’s a chance to promote New Zealand to demonstrate that we’re reconnecting, that we’re back in business.”
Despite the openness message, travellers from Japan or Singapore are not yet able to book flights to New Zealand.
The border is currently closed to all but Australian tourists until May 2.
Ms Ardern said she had to renew her passport to make the trip.
“I can assure you I have a bad passport photo, like every other New Zealand citizen,” she said.
The prime minister cancelled two overseas trips last year due to COVID-19 outbreaks; a business mission to Australia and a swing through Europe aimed at convincing leaders to sign a free trade deal.