New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will speak at Harvard University’s commencement ceremony this spring — even as other New Zealanders are prohibited from traveling freely abroad.
“Prime Minister Ardern is one of the most respected leaders on the world stage and we are delighted she will join us in May to celebrate the Class of 2022,” Harvard President Larry Bacow said in a statement. “From climate change and gender equality to COVID-19, she has modeled compassionate leadership that has brought together empathy and science-based solutions to address the most challenging issues of our time.”
“The address is the catalyst for Ardern’s visit to the United States this year, which she has described as a trade-led mission,” reported Stuff, an outlet based in New Zealand which reported the news ahead of the school’s official announcement. “She has not yet been invited to the White House to meet with President Joe Biden, although an invitation is expected to be issued to coincide with the Harvard visit.”
“The commencement address is a plumb speech that even the world’s most powerful leaders covet — a chance to give a sweeping address to some of the brightest young people in the United States, among them many future leaders,” the outlet continued. “It is also an extremely friendly audience — doubtless more so for Ardern, whose response to the Covid-19 pandemic stood in stark contrast to that of former American president Donald Trump, and who will be received as a progressive hero in the liberal enclave of Cambridge, Massachusetts.”
This could be Ardern’s first international trip since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Australian Associated Press.
Ardern’s government still recommends that “all New Zealanders do not travel overseas at this time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, associated health risks and widespread travel restrictions” — an advisory that has remained in effect since March 19, 2020. As of February 3, New Zealand plans to let vaccinated citizens “and other current eligible travellers” return home from Australia starting on February 27. The same policy will apply to “the same groups” across the rest of the world on March 13.
For the unvaccinated, “managed isolation and quarantine” (MIQ) remains in effect. Meanwhile, the vaccinated will be forced to self-isolate.
For Kiwis without access to the halls of power, traveling abroad thus far has indeed been difficult — and in some cases, dangerous.
Earlier this month, Charlotte Bellis — a pregnant journalist who has received three COVID-19 vaccine shots — made international headlines for being denied entrance to her home country of New Zealand from Kabul, Afghanistan, where she had been stranded for months.
Despite her perilous situation, she repeatedly failed to get an MIQ spot in New Zealand after playing the nation’s lottery system numerous times. Bellis and her partner submitted 59 documents to New Zealand’s government explaining their situation and requesting entry into the country. They also sent a cover letter written by their lawyer, but were still rejected.
“What was the threshold? What more can I do? How did they want me to prove that giving birth was a scheduled, time-critical medical treatment?” Bellis wrote. “Did they want me to be induced so there was a firm date? And how to prove that Afghanistan did not offer the same maternity care as in New Zealand?”
Ardern’s government only caved after receiving international criticism.
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