COVID-19: Government will 'try' and not use lockdowns if 76 percent of total population is vaccinated - Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Government will "try" and not use restrictions such as lockdowns when enough people are protected against COVID-19 - with a target to get 76 percent or more of New Zealand's total population vaccinated.

Ardern's comments come after criticism from former Prime Minister Sir John Key, who has accused the Government of using fear to try and boost immunisation numbers.

Sir John came out swinging against the Government's COVID-19 plan in a column published on Sunday and doubled down on Monday, telling The AM Show New Zealand needed a hard date to reopen to the world. 

Australia, for example, has pledged to ease COVID-19 restrictions when 70 percent of eligible populations over 16 are vaccinated and ditch lockdowns when 80 percent have been immunised - which Prime Minister Scott Morrison expects to happen by Christmas. 

But Ardern says her Government is basing its plan on facts, statistics and overseas evidence. Last month, before the emergence of New Zealand's Delta outbreak, Ardern released a four-phase plan to ease restrictions and reconnect the country over the next six months.

"The general principle is with high vaccination rates, we do not want to have to continue to use lockdowns and that's our plan," Ardern told The AM Show on Monday.

She referred to the 90 percent eligible population vaccination target set by Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield earlier this month - which she said equates to about 76 percent of New Zealand's total population. 

Ardern reiterated the Government hopes to return New Zealand to pre-pandemic normality once high vaccination rates have been achieved.

"My intention would still be to try and not use restrictions that include stay-at-home orders because those are really tough on people," she said.

"Our plan going forward is to continue to use the best evidence and international advice that we can as we roll out the next stage.

"There has been no costless response to COVID - not anywhere in the world - and there is no country right now, even those with vaccination rates that are high, that are still not experiencing the impacts of this pandemic.

"My job, while I'm in this role, is to continue to get us through safely with as few restrictions as possible - with as much freedom as possible. That's what's guided us to date and that's what will continue to guide me," Ardern said.

About 1.72 million New Zealanders - around 42 percent of the eligible population - are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.