Chris Hipkins blasts Hannah, Brian Tamaki for leaving Auckland on eve of COVID-19 lockdown

Chris Hipkins has blasted Brian and Hannah Tamaki for "sneaking" out of Auckland on the eve of its COVID-19 alert level 3 lockdown, saying it is "completely irresponsible".

The pair fled Auckland on Saturday night after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a week-long lockdown following new community cases being discovered. 

The Tamakis arrived in Rotorua at midnight, then on Sunday held a large church gathering. 

The Minister for the COVID-19 response said on Wednesday he recommends anyone attending the Tamakis gatherings anywhere in New Zealand "exercises judgement".

"Sneaking out of Auckland at the start of a lockdown and having large gatherings of people is simply putting people at risk unnecessarily."

At their Rotorua gathering Hannah Tamaki urged parishioners to give them money. 

"The thing about Brian and I the whole time is that we've always believed you never come to the house of the Lord empty handed, even though you may do an AP [automatic payment]," said Hannah Tamaki. 

"One-dollar coin, two-dollar coin, bring something into the house of the Lord. Bring what you can, over and above, because really it's the offering where God commands the blessing."

The Tamakis issued a blistering response to the media attention they received for fleeing Auckland, saying it is "not the media's job" to sanction them.

"The work of the Tamakis has ultimately changed the economic fortunes of countless families, and the communities they reside in," they said in a statement on Wednesday.

"As a church we want to be clear, it's not the media's job to sanction, on behalf of the state, Apostle Brian or Ps Hannah Tamaki's work or travel arrangements."