The Prime Minister has refused to reveal whether COVID-19 elimination is still the goal for Auckland but admitted the country is in an awkward "transition" during a tense interview on Monday.
It comes ahead of the Government's announcement today where Jacinda Ardern will reveal more details on Aotearoa's roadmap out of COVID-19 restrictions.
Ahead of the announcement, Ardern joined The AM Show where host Ryan Bridge pushed her on whether Aucklanders would soon get some freedoms back after seven weeks in lockdown.
"Are you willing to admit now finally that Auckland is very unlikely to get to zero cases and that COVID-19 is with us now?" Bridge asked.
"Ah Ryan I am not sure what you're asking for in an admission," Ardern responded, before Bridge jumped in again asking her to confirm whether she would give Aucklanders certainty about what the COVID-19 plan is.
"What I am looking for from you this morning Prime Minister is an admission that elimination isn't going to happen in Auckland, we are always going to have COVID here and if that is the case…"
Ardern tried to jump in while chuckling saying, "So Ryan" but Bridge continued with his question, finishing with, "... and at what point we might have some certainty?"
"So Ryan. Ryan... at four o'clock today we will be setting out after Cabinet has met this afternoon, our roadmap for Auckland, our intention for Auckland. Keeping in mind that we are in a space right not where we do need to be really cautious," Ardern said.
"I've heard a lot of people talk solely about the option of simple alert level changes, we have more options available to us than just that…". Bridge jumped in again asking, "Like what?".
But Ardern ploughed on saying, "What we've been doing over the last few weeks is analysing some of the changes that could be made that pose less risk but also just help Aucklanders at this stage because we absolutely understand the restrictions they've been living under are tough."
Ardern continued saying the reason we were striving for elimination at the beginning of the Delta outbreak was because we were still getting vaccine rates up and couldn't "tolerate" a widespread outbreak.
Bridge again asked whether Auckland is still striving for elimination or whether that has changed now vaccine rates are higher.
"Ryan, my friend I am trying to answer your questions," Ardern said while laughing.
"With respect Prime Minister you're not," Bridge countered.
"Ryan...we are still in the position where we need to maintain control of this outbreak because we do still need more people vaccinated. But look for the long-form version, I would rather I have a chance to talk to my Cabinet colleagues before we set out that roadmap," Ardern said.
"So are we still striving for elimination or what you're saying is you're making a decision today about whether we're still striving for elimination," Bridge asked.
The PM once again skirted around the question, saying the Government is focusing on the "here and now" and they always have the opportunity to change their approach.
"We are in a transition now though, we are in this awkward position where we don't yet have enough people vaccinated to tolerate an outbreak but we are in a position, it's within our sights, because we are vaccinating rapidly that once we do we can change our approach," Ardern said.
The interview only got tenser from there with the pair immediately talking over each other as Bridge went to ask his next question.
The next question was whether Aucklanders were looking at another two months of lockdown while we wait for 90 percent of residents to be fully vaccinated.
"That is not correct Ryan, that is not the only option available to us," Ardern said before again pointing to the 4pm stand up for more information.
Ardern will reveal the Government's plan at her post-Cabinet press at 4pm which will be livestreamed on newshub.co.nz.
It comes after COVID-19 made its way out of Auckland with two new cases reported in Waikato on Sunday - one in Raglan and one in Hamilton East. The cases plunged parts of Waikato, including Raglan and Hamilton city, back into alert level 3 for at least five days and seemingly dashed hopes of Auckland moving down to alert level 2 this week.
Ardern told The AM Show initial genome sequencing has connected the COVID-19 cases in Waikato to the Auckland outbreak.
She also revealed some of the Raglan case's household contacts have also tested positive overnight.
"We have positive household cases attached to our Raglan case - no positive household cases, at this stage, for our Hamilton case," she said.