Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is confident the Government's COVID-19 resurgence plan has "worked", but National's border response spokesperson Gerry Brownlee says it has been a complete failure.
The Prime Minister thanked New Zealanders on Friday for their efforts to contain the latest coronavirus outbreak in Auckland, saying "good progress" has been made in the lead-up to a decision on the alert levels next week.
"I want to say a word of thanks. We are where we are because of the efforts of everyone, especially Auckland and especially those who have been tested. We would not have got in front of this cluster without them," Ardern said.
It came as Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield reported nine new cases of COVID-19 in the community, all linked to the same south Auckland cluster that sparked the city's alert level 3 lockdown last week.
"As you can see from the numbers and the details of the cases shared by Dr Bloomfield, we continue to identify the perimeter or the outer edges of the current cluster," Ardern said. "We have made good progress."
But Brownlee doesn't see it that way. He said in a statement on Friday that it is becoming increasingly clear that the Government's resurgence plan "completely failed" to prepare for regional lockdown.
He said as of 3am on Friday morning, people trying to cross the Auckland border were being turned around and forced to get a new exemption letter, because the previous exemption letters being granted didn't require any identification from those using it.
"This shows a complete absence of planning from Labour. The Prime Minister has bragged about a 'resurgence plan' that has been activated but we are seeing little evidence of it," Brownlee said.
"Many people are still waiting for their existing exemption applications to be processed, while those who have already received one are now being forced to apply again."
It comes after millions of bees were starved to death because checkpoints in and out of Auckland delayed beekeepers accessing their hives. Beekeepers need a letter from the Ministry of Health to prove they have been granted permission to travel.
The Government has been dealing with thousands of applications for exemptions and Health Minister Chris Hipkins said on Thursday officials are working as quickly as possible to process them.
The Prime Minister nonetheless said the Government's re-emergence plan has worked successfully and she called for unity around the response to combatting COVID-19.
"There is certainly the view that the resurgence plan has worked, even though it's been tested in a scenario that is at the more difficult end of the scale, and I think that should be cause for all New Zealanders to feel optimistic," she said.
"There is no room for division when it comes to fighting COVID. By sticking together, supporting each other, and acting responsibly, we will continue to defeat it when it re-emerges."
Ardern released the Government's COVID-19 re-emergence plan last month which outlined how lockdowns, if necessary, would be more regionally-focused, as we have seen with Auckland at level 3 and the rest of the country at level 2.
Ardern said the restrictions in Auckland have been "key" to the response.
"Everyone in Auckland has known what those restrictions have meant - no face-to-face retail shopping, no gatherings, no school. They're sacrifices. I want you to know they've not been in vain," she said.
"Over the last 10 days, we have identified cases that have affected a major store at Sylvia Park, a shop at St Luke's Mall, six schools, and four churches.
"Imagine how much bigger that cluster and outbreak would be if all of those places hadn't closed and that contact had continued, if school students had continued to mingle, if shop workers continued to serve people."
Brownlee said New Zealanders deserve better than the "ad-hoc system" that is currently in place and he said the "constant mismanagement" is costing people jobs, businesses and livelihoods.
The Government's response hasn't been without some major hiccups.
Newshub revealed that the week before the latest COVID-19 outbreak in Auckland more than 60 percent of all border-facing workers in the city had never been tested, falling well-short of its testing strategy.
It was also revealed that hundreds of people left managed isolation without being tested, despite rules requiring a test at days three and 12, and a negative result required for the day 12 test before being allowed to leave.
On top of that, several people managed to escape the facilities over the last couple of months.
The Government has responded by introducing an additional 500 Defence Force personnel to the facilities, and rolling out thermal CCTV that triggers an alarm if returnees break out, at a cost of around $6 million.