Coronavirus: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern defends decision to remain at level 3

Jacinda Ardern is defending the Government's decision not to move more quickly to level 2, saying more data is needed before we can be absolutely certain there is no community transmission of COVID-19 here.

The country moved from level 4 to level 3 almost a week ago, meaning all businesses deemed to be able to operate safely can reopen, not just essential services.

But even with 400,000 more Kiwis being able to return to work, there have been calls to drop to level 2 immediately before the restrictions take an even greater toll on the economy.

"We're waiting to be assured that when we move we're doing it confidently," The Prime Minister told The Am Show on Monday.

"Level 3 is the waiting room, it's the place where we check that we genuinely don't have community transmission, where we check that we are able to see the source of every case. And if we have issues, if we find that that is not the case and if people have not been following the rules, the chance of an outbreak is increased."

Over the weekend, police busted hundreds of parties throughout the country as Kiwis exploited the first weekend of relaxed restrictions.

Ardern said if people don't take the social distancing seriously then there is a chance the move to level 2 could be put off longer.

"It does put people at risk. So if people aren't following those guidelines then, yes, we could see more cases and we could be here longer."

Cabinet will next consider moving to level 2 on May 11. And though there were just two new cases of COVID-19 reported on Sunday, Ardern says there is no chance of an earlier shift to level 2.

"We wouldn't do it earlier. Because that gives us one cycle of transmission and good data that can tell us a lot, so we wouldn't cut that short."

When challenged by The AM Show host Duncan Garner about the Government's conservative approach, the Prime Minister responded briskly to his comments.

"I didn't realise you were an epidemiologist - congratulations on your new qualification," she said.

Dr Michael Baker, a leading epidemiologist from the University of Otago, told Newshub the more people breach social distancing rules, the higher the chance of new chains of transmission beginning were.

"Unfortunately the effects of people who don't follow the physical distancing rules will be terrible," he said.

"It will take a few weeks before they appear...You can start these new trains of transmission, but it might take three or four weeks before you're aware of them.

"All around the world people underestimated this virus, and it's been a disaster. Some countries that appear to have succeeded, as New Zealand is doing, have gone backwards very rapidly. This is still a very infectious virus - there's no free pass with this infection."

Ardern said according to Treasury the move to level 3 meant the economy was now operating at around 75 percent. But due to more people circulating in society, there was more risk that people without symptoms could be spreading the virus.

"Making that decision to go to level 2 not only opens up the economy but it opens up people's interactions with one another. And we want to be able to do that with confidence," she said. 

Simon Bridges, leader of the Opposition, told Newshub that 1000 jobs a day are being lost while the country continues to enforce restrictions.

"This has gone on too long. We need to get New Zealand working again. Quite simply we've got to end lockdown because it's so much easier to keep someone in a job."

Regardless of what alert level the country is in, more cases will be reported, Bridges said, saying the focus now should be on protecting jobs.