National leader Judith Collins has hit out at "mixed messages" from the Government on COVID-19, and the "interesting timing" of progress on a Cook Islands travel bubble.
"I thought it was interesting timing," Collins told reporters in Auckland on Monday after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that a quarantine-free Cook Islands travel bubble could be in place by the end of the year.
Collins said the Government is giving "mixed messages" by announcing progress on a travel bubble with the Cook Islands, after last week Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield was warning Kiwis to prepare for a second wave of coronavirus.
"I think what they should be doing is explaining why it's taking that time and what's going to differ between say October and December apart from the fact there'll be a better Government in charge - one led by me," Collins said.
"Clearly there is something they think is different and I've got these mixed messages in the last few days with the Director-General of Health talking about COVID lockdown level 2 and face masks and people are saying 'well hang on, what's going on here?'"
Collins said she found it "very odd" that the Prime Minister would announce during the election campaign that a travel bubble could be in place by December.
"It just staggers me that the Government is currently today announcing that they might do something in December. Well, they won't be around in December so it won't be their decision," Collins said.
"Is it going to take them that long to get anything in place? Is there going to be a vaccine by then? They need to explain why there are two different messages coming out within a week of themselves."
Collins speculated that the announcement had something to do with friction between the governing parties Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens.
"I think the Government's a mess and I think you can see the Greens, Labour and New Zealand First just obviously having yet another squabble," she said.
"There's clearly something going on there and I think they need to just remember that they're in the election phase right now and it's premature to be talking about what they might have done in December when we've got these mixed messages."
The Prime Minister said on Monday negotiations on quarantine-free travel between New Zealand and the Cook Islands are at the point of conclusion, and that in about 10 days officials will begin testing the regime.
Once assurance of the arrangements is guaranteed, the final phase is a decision from both countries that the arrangements can be started safely and quarantine-free travel can begin.
Both New Zealand and the Cook Islands are hoping to have a travel bubble in place before the end of the year, and as soon as it can be safely achieved.
"Once in force, the arrangement will facilitate the return to normal travel between our two countries, while acknowledging that the priority remains to protect our populations from COVID-19," Ardern said.
"We now need to make sure the commitments made in the arrangement can be met and that both countries have robust health and border systems that stop the spread of COVID."
Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna said the free movement of people between the Cook Islands and New Zealand was vitally important to sustain economic and social connections.
"We are moving forward together with New Zealand in a way that balances economic and social needs with the importance of maintaining strong public health efforts in both our countries, and cooperation with travel sectors to implement safe travel protocols."
There will be a report back on progress in two weeks' time.