Parents are urged to send their children back to school under alert level 2 restrictions because their "futures depend on this", Chris Hipkins says.
When Auckland was sent into alert level 3 earlier in August, it meant only children of essential workers could go to school - the remaining students had to learn from home. But now the city is in level '2.5', all children can return.
Hipkins, who is both the Health and Education Minister, said he understands the anxiety parents have about their children returning to school and early childhood centres while there are COVID-19 cases in New Zealand, but it is safe for them to go.
"We saw this after the first lockdown when we first stepped down to level 2, it took a while for those attendance numbers for schools and early childhood centres to increase again," he said during a press conference.
"So while I understand the anxiety, my message to parents is that it is safe to send your kids back to school. Schools are doing the extra things we need them to do in order to keep kids safe. And we do want to see kids back at school because it's important for their futures that they're engaging in their education."
But when asked if it was okay for children to stay at home if their parents were worried, he said it wasn't and reiterated the importance of sending them back to school.
"They've had a lot of time out of school already this year, we don't want them having any time out of school that they don't need to be out of school. So please do get your kids back."
Parents commenting on an Auckland community Facebook page had mixed feelings about their children returning to school, but many said they'll wait for a few days or even a week to see how case numbers are looking.
"My child's staying home. I'll give it a week before sending my child back," one said.
"I was all for it until today - for some reason I've changed my mind. Will give it a week and see how this so-called level 2.5 goes. My kids' school in Mt Roskill is not far from the church cluster," another wrote.
"I'm not letting my babies go till level 1," a third said.
But others said they have no choice but to send them to school due to work or other commitments.
"Yes because we have to work so no one to stay home with our primary aged kid. He will be wearing a mask though," one wrote.
"I'm not keen, but think our school has good measures in place. I will encourage mine to wear masks but not sure how long it will last," another said.
Masks became compulsory to wear on public transport from Monday for people aged 12 or over, but they don't have to be worn on school buses.
Although there's no mandate to wear masks whenever people leave their home, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has encouraged their use in addition to other public health guidelines.