Coronavirus: Jacinda Ardern explains why she won't set a vaccination target to end lockdowns

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she wants this current lockdown to be the last - but whether it is or not depends on us getting vaccinated.

Unlike some other countries though, she's not promising an end to lockdowns once a certain vaccination threshold is reached - and told The AM Show on Tuesday exactly why. 

Auckland is currently at alert level 4, with a number of mystery COVID-19 cases still popping up, while the rest of the country is at level 2. Auckland's level 4 lockdown was extended by a week on Monday, to the surprise of no one. When the city does eventually emerge from level 4 it'll be in level 3, which is almost as restrictive. 

"We're in lockdown because we do not have enough New Zealanders currently vaccinated to stop an outbreak that would devastate our community," Ardern explained on Tuesday. 

Currently just under 35 percent of eligible Kiwis (12-plus) have had two jabs, 29 percent of the total population. Our rollout started later than many other rich countries, but is making up for lost time, currently administering more jabs per capita each day than almost any other nation. 

After a fast start, the US vaccine rollout has faltered - just 53 percent there have been fully vaccinated. In the UK it's almost two-thirds, with France and Germany not far behind. 

"You can look at other countries to see where it is that it starts having an impact and where it hasn't," Ardern told The AM Show. 

"In the US they've got hospitalisations around 100,000… that is extraordinary. It is the hospitalisation numbers that everyone is worried about. We are actually close to overtaking the US with our vaccination rate, but we need to keep going."

Deaths in the UK have been rising despite most people having two jabs. Delta is so infectious it can still spread, particularly amongst the unvaccinated, who make up the vast majority of hospitalisations and deaths in highly vaccinated countries. 

"Vaccination rates are actually looking pretty good now," Graham Le Gros, director of the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research and the programme director of the Vaccine Alliance, told The AM Show. 

"If we can just pursue with real vigour and innovation, get everyone who wants to be vaccinated, vaccinated, I think we're in good shape for learning how to deal with this virus. Because we see overseas you can't escape the virus - it changes too much."

New Zealand's strategy to date has been elimination, but many experts are starting to think that Delta is just too difficult to wipe out, particularly in the long-term. 

"One event, one month ago, has completely paralysed Auckland and New Zealand for one month," said Le Gros. "What happens if we get another one next month? And the month after that? This is exhausting and no society can go through multiple rounds [of lockdowns]."

Ardern said that won't happen.

"I've said many times before, we have no intention of continuing to lose lockdowns in the long-term - we just can't keep doing that to people. For the most part, we've actually as a country had fewer days where we've had what they call internationally stay at home orders, than most countries we compare ourselves to. 

"That strategy has worked really well for us, but going forward the way that we can stop using lockdowns is to make sure that everyone is vaccinated. We used them in the past because we didn't have that tool. Now we have vaccines, so we need to use them so that we don't have to use lockdowns in the future." 

Earlier on The AM Show, economist Cameron Bagrie said businesses needed to know the "magic number" that would guarantee they wouldn't be suddenly shut down again. 

"As many of us as possible," said Ardern, noting even with the strict lockdowns, Kiwi businesses have enjoyed more "days where they've been able to operate freely… relative to other countries".

"The reason we've not given a specific number is because even if you say 'we want 80 percent', if you have only 60 percent in one part of the country, people will die in that part of the country. All of us have a role to play in getting our rates as high as possible. 

"My commitment is I do not intend to use lockdowns in the long-term. No one does, because we know the impact that it has. So there is a plan and a way out."

She said there were 220,000 slots this week in Auckland alone to get vaccinated, urging people whose jabs are booked later to jump on the Book My Vaccine website to get them moved forward. 

"That makes a difference for us in the future using lockdowns. I don't want to use them in the future. I don't want to have to use them again. The more we get vaccinated, the less likely we'll have to do that."