Chris Hipkins insists the total eradication of coronavirus from the community is "still within reach" after Dr Ashley Bloomfield admitted that goal may never be accomplished.
It comes after the Director-General of Health's comments during an interview earlier in the day, in which he tempered expectations of every getting back down to zero cases again.
"We may not get back to zero," Dr Bloomfield admitted on RNZ's Morning Report.
"But the important thing is we're going to keep finding any infections and basically continue to contact-trace, test, isolate people so that we stop the virus circulating in the community - and that is the aim."
But Hipkins is adamant the zero case goal is still realistic and achievable.
"We are not giving up on getting back down to zero; that is exactly why Auckland is still at alert level 3," he told media.
"We've still got a very good shot at getting down to zero. That is absolutely what we are striving for, it's what everyone in Auckland is sacrificing for us to achieve, it's what our public health teams are working so hard to contact-trace to be able to achieve.
"Moving to alert level 3 does not in any way mean we are not still pursuing getting back down to zero. It's worth remembering that we've got down to zero from alert level 3 before without having to go back to level 4 at all. So we're well-positioned going into alert level 3 to continue the road back down to zero."
Appearing on the Beehive podium next to Hipkins, Dr Bloomfield reiterated that there was a chance it would never happen - but backed his colleague's assertion they'd keep trying.
"It's a possibility, but at the moment we're doing everything we can do to get down to zero cases," he said, adding that vaccination is the most important part of getting New Zealand back to COVID-19 alert level 1.
Hipkins says the Government is continuing to pursue a COVID-19 elimination strategy or a "zero tolerance" for cases.