Alert level changes would be considered as a "last resort" in the event of a community outbreak of COVID-19 over summer, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says.
Hipkins announced on Tuesday how the Government plans to manage any potential community cases that may arise over the summer. He says the combination of Kiwis following guidelines and the Government having plans in place will give New Zealanders "the best chance" of enjoying summer.
He says the Government will continue to follow its elimination strategy if any community cases emerge and will "stamp it out".
"Although we can't predict exactly where or how a community case might emerge, New Zealanders can be reassured planning has been extensive, and has included scenario testing and understanding actions that might be needed, including, as a last resort, alert level changes," he said.
"If a positive case was found in the community [during summer], we'd use the usual approach to communicating with the public - updates and advice would first be provided by me and/or the Director-General of Health or his delegate."
Hipkins says "extensive" contingency plans are in place in the event of community cases and the health system is standing ready.
He says Government agencies are all tightly connected and work with local government, iwi, community leaders, Civil Defence, and the private sector to make sure the response is fully coordinated.
"People in remote locations where there is limited cell phone coverage would very likely be safe from exposure to COVID-19, but would need to follow public health advice upon return from those locations - this is a personal responsibility," Hipkins said.
"In a worst-case scenario, if it became clear there was a high risk of widespread transmission, you'd need to stay where you are and in your bubble until you get official advice. We don't want people rushing home and possibly taking the virus with them."
He emphasised this is a worst-case scenario, and New Zealanders deserve to enjoy their summer after "a long, hard year". He also said it's important to focus on "basic actions" like regularly washing your hands, scanning QR codes with the COVID Tracer app, staying home if you're feeling unwell, and getting advice on taking a test.
"And if we're going away on a break, we should be thinking about what would happen if we're required to stay at our holiday location while waiting for official advice. That might mean a backup plan for homes or pets if we can't get home straight away," Hipkins said.
He said the Government has learned and strengthened its response to the virus since March, and improved testing since Auckland's August cluster means there have been just four outbreaks that have been managed without changing alert levels.
"At the same time, we know the virus is continuing to rage offshore and despite our best efforts, there's always the possibility of further community cases here."