The Opposition says the Government has lost control of COVID-19 and is in "dangerous denial" of the situation.
On Sunday the Prime Minister announced parts of Waikato - including Raglan and Hamilton city - are moving into alert level 3 for at least five days after COVID escaped the Auckland lockdown. One case was found in Raglan and another in Hamilton East.
National leader Judith Collins says the spread of COVID into the Waikato and increasing numbers of unlinked cases is proof the Government's elimination strategy isn't working.
"The five-day level 3 lockdown of much of the Waikato following confirmation of cases in Raglan and Hamilton shows level 3 is not containing the virus and the Government has lost control of the situation in Auckland," Collins says in a statement.
"Level 3 in Auckland and level 2 in the rest of New Zealand is costing more than $1 billion a week. But restrictions are clearly not consistent with an elimination strategy.
"New Zealand urgently needs a plan. The situation has changed and elimination seems no longer feasible."
ACT leader David Seymour says it's clear the Government has "lost control of COVID-19" and is in "dangerous denial".
"The Prime Minister stands at the podium looking shell-shocked as the Government's response crashes down around her, complaining that New Zealand's vaccine rollout is too slow. You have to hand it to her, that's brave," he says in a statement.
"What's extraordinary is that they appear to have never thought what they'd do if an inland city on a plain with many roads in and out got a case. What have they been doing for 18 months?
"The Government needs to accept it's failed and plot a new way forward."
If elimination has failed - what next?
Both ACT and National say with an eradication strategy no longer feasible and viable, we need to change our approach.
"At a cost of more than $1 billion a week, the level 3 lockdown has failed to eliminate COVID. What we have now is the worst of both worlds," Collins says.
"We need to know what our lockdowns are aiming to achieve and when they will end. If not elimination, are we buying time while the Government catches up on its slow vaccine rollout? What is the threshold where restrictions will be lifted?"
Collins urges the Government to adopt National's 'Opening Up' plan announced earlier this week, which set forward a pathway for ending lockdowns and resuming international travel.
Seymour says New Zealanders are "tired of the uncertainty" and there needs to be a change of approach, based on five movements:
- Recognise that eradication no longer stacks up. We must move to a policy of harm minimisation. This policy should aim to reduce transmission, hospitalisation, and death from COVID at the least possible cost of overall wellbeing.
- Move from isolating whole cities to isolating only those who it makes sense to isolate. Personal isolation should be restricted to three groups: those who are medically vulnerable and require special protection, those who have recently arrived in New Zealand and are privately isolating, and those who have tested positive as part of widespread surveillance testing.
- Move from chronic fear and uncertainty and get on a clear path to restoring freedom. We should settle when the vaccine rollout is 'complete' and aim to get Kiwis home for Christmas.
- Move from a 'government knows best' approach to an approach of openness, and host all in 'sprints'. In each sprint, the business community and all of society are invited to help reach clearly identified goals of lower transmission rates, hospitalisations and deaths, in time for reopening.
- The entire tone of New Zealand's COVID response should shift from fear and a singular focus on public health to a focus on maximising overall wellbeing.