Coronavirus: Jacinda Ardern says it's 'within our power' to ensure freedom from tight COVID-19 restrictions at Christmas

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says it is within New Zealanders' power to make sure we aren't under tight COVID-19 restrictions at Christmas by going out and getting vaccinated.

On Monday, Ardern announced restrictions in Auckland would ease slightly at 11:59pm on Tuesday night, noting that alert level 4 had "helped us contain the outbreak" and while level 3 provided a few more liberties, it also has "really important and strict rules". For example, restaurants can open for contactless pick-up, but no social gatherings are allowed.

Auckland will sit at level 3 for at least two weeks as the long tail of Delta cases continues. Twenty-two cases were recorded on Monday, with five not linked to the wider outbreak as of 1pm.

Speaking to The AM Show on Tuesday morning, Ardern said getting vaccinated was critical to ensuring we have freedoms in a few months time. 

"We all want to make sure that we have as many freedoms as possible at Christmas and we have that all within our power because the difference between now and past situations when we've been in lockdown - yes is Delta and it has made our job harder - but we have another tool, and that's called vaccination.

"That is something that everyone can do now, and make a joint effort to put us in the best position possible to have as few as restrictions as possible."

Of the eligible population - those aged 12 and over - 38 percent are fully vaccinated, while 73 percent have had their first dose. Ardern said it's possible that by the end of the week, 80 percent of Aucklanders could have had their first jab and the 90 percent mark could be hit "over the next couple of weeks".

While vaccines aren't a silver bullet to COVID-19 - for example vaccinated people can still be infected - evidence shows they do reduce the risk of transmission, hospitalisation and death. 

Data from the United States' Center for Disease Control and Prevention released last week found that after Delta became the most common variant of the virus, fully vaccinated people were five times less likely to be infected than unvaccinated people. Those vaccinated were 10 times less likely to be admitted to hospital and 11 times less likely to die. 

Ardern has refused to set a hard target of how many Kiwis she wants vaccinated before restrictions become less necessary - concerned that when that target is hit, remaining Kiwis may not see the need - but Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield believes getting above 90 percent is "mission-critical".  

"In countries with high vaccination rates, COVID-19 has become a pandemic, or an epidemic, of the unvaccinated," he said last week. "It's not just any vaccination level, it's a very high vaccination level - we need to be at or above 90 percent and that is where everybody needs to be thinking about and that is why we have geared up our system to make sure we can deliver to that level."

Health Minister Andrew Little told Newshub Nation on Saturday that the Government wants to "maximise" the number of people vaccinated. 

"The number 90 percent is now used - I'd like to think we can get beyond that… one of the best things we could do is lead the world in terms of vaccination rate." 

Jacinda Ardern continues to stress the need for people to be vaccinated.
Jacinda Ardern continues to stress the need for people to be vaccinated. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Ardern told The AM Show on Tuesday that modelling is underway to understand the "difference that high vaccination levels make to the types of restrictions that you live with".

"You look around the world at other countries, you'll see that they have varying restrictions depending on the vaccination rates. 

"So they've done some work on what that might look like in a New Zealand context and I think it'd be really interesting for New Zealanders to see that at different rates of vaccine, the difference that it makes for people's health, their safety and their everyday lives."

She said above 90 percent is "the point that you see it having an impact". 

"If you're in the position of having COVID around, that's when you see it having an impact on the levels of restrictions that you need to deal with but, as I've said, what I want to do is give you an insight into the modelling. 

"We'll look to do that once we have some more up to date versions of it, and share that with the public so they can see the difference that it makes to the types of restrictions."

The Prime Minister also stressed that while level 4 ensured "we do not have widespread uncontrolled transmission", caution is still needed.

"Level 3 still offers very tight restrictions, and this is a special message to Auckland here, the things that make the biggest difference for us in these situations continue to be people keeping their bubbles.

"Please do not for a moment think that level three means that you should suddenly break out and see friends, families or socialise. Keep your bubbles tight, it is incredibly important as we continue to work on stamping it out, and at the same time, we're asking people to go and be vaccinated because we do think it will make a difference for this outbreak too."