Todd Muller has hit out at Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for being "tardy" around the move to alert level 1 and for confusion created by the difference of opinion between her and Winston Peters.
The Prime Minister revealed on Tuesday that next Monday Cabinet will consider a move to alert level 1, when essentially all COVID-19 restrictions will be removed other than border closures. Further details of what it will entail are expected on Wednesday.
Ardern's announcement came after mounting calls for the country to be further freed up, including from the Opposition, hospitality industry leaders, and her own deputy Prime Minister. Pressure increased on Monday when thousands turned out to protest racism and police brutality while ignoring the 100-person limit on gatherings.
"If they condone that and there's no prosecution of the organisers of these two events then why are we not at alert level 1?" Peters said on Tuesday. Last week, he said we had been "too cautious for too long now" and that the country has "got to risk it and get going".
Muller, the National Party leader, says there is too much confusion and he believes we should already be at alert level 1.
"We have had the deputy Prime Minister for the last week saying we should be in level 1 already. We have a Prime Minister saying it is still at least a week away. My view is they need to be in level 1 right now," he told The AM Show.
"She should be announcing today that we are moving into level 1 by the weekend."
Ardern said on Tuesday she had been in touch with Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield over the weekend to "canvass with him bringing forward the consideration of alert level 1".
She said New Zealand was exceeding expectations in terms of its health response to the COVID-19 crisis and that the decision to bring forward when to consider alert level 1 wasn't influenced by Monday's protests.
"Not because of the protests. In the same way that we didn't change the lockdown rules because we saw people flout them. Not at all. The decisions we are making have to be based on making sure we are locking in all of those gains, that we are confident that we are in the best position possible," Ardern told The AM Show.
The Prime Minister told Parliament on Tuesday Cabinet would use the same criteria it has "considered every time" when deciding on whether to move alert levels. That included the number of COVID-19 cases, active cases, economic ramifications, the readiness of the public health system, contact tracing and the compliance of the community.
New Zealand, which has recorded 1504 COVID-19 cases overall, only currently has one active case of the respiratory illness and hasn't recorded a new case in 11 days.
Muller said considering that criteria, we should move now.
"Surely across all those measures, it is time to apply the rules equally and not have protests able to get together, but businesses not," he said on Wednesday.
"This is a huge economic crisis. It's tens of thousands of jobs at stake. She has been too tardy in my view and, of course, her deputy has been of the view that we should be in level 1 a week ago. It is confusing, they are divergent. We need far greater clarity than that."
The National leader said the protest showed why "these rules are a nonsense".
He said he expected alert level 1 will be "largely like it used to be with the border closed and a bit of common sense around how to keep yourself healthy".
Ardern said on Tuesday that the "ongoing zero case days" provided confidence to reconsider when the move to alert level 1 will be looked into, but there is still "ongoing concern amongst the scientific community around asymptomatic transmission. It is worse for business if we move backwards rather than continually moving forwards. So we will continually balance our decision making".
She said members of the different Government parties "are very aware of each other's opinions and we openly talk about them before we talk publicly about them".