Andrew Little says he's not sure what an "unsustainable" level of COVID-19 hospitalisations would be once the city reaches 90 percent COVID vaccination and starts to reopen.
Auckland is on track to move to the 'traffic light' system on November 29, bringing an end to COVID-19 lockdowns. The Government has said the city will begin on the 'red' level of the system, meaning everything can reopen with limits of 100 people if vaccine certificates are used.
If vaccine certificates aren't used at venues, restrictions will apply. For example, hospitality businesses will still only be able to open for takeaways.
"At red, action will need to be taken to protect both at-risk people and protect our health system from an unsustainable number of hospitalisations," the Government says in its COVID-19 protection framework criteria.
Little, the Health Minister, was asked on Tuesday what that "unsustainable" number of hospitalisations would be.
"Look, I can't give you a precise number," he told The AM Show. "We're at sort of, roughly kind of, the late 70s, 80, 81 yesterday in hospital but you've got three big hospitals in Auckland who can accommodate 4000 patients between them, but of course they're not 4000 beds just for COVID patients."
Little was also asked how many hospital beds would be available for COVID-19 patients in Auckland.
"There'll be as many as we need to manage the problem but the more pressure that goes on the system, then the more you have to put restrictions on everything else," he told host Ryan Bridge. "I can't give you precise numbers. The nature of available hospital beds, for any cause or any reason, shifts around laterally from day-to-day."
Daily COVID-19 case numbers have been trending upwards, topping 200 at the weekend, just over 100 on Sunday and nearly another 200 on Monday. With restrictions easing further in Auckland on Wednesday, it won't be too long before those cases rise, even more, experts have said.
"We know that with the rapidly increasing cases we've got at the moment actually things are sustainable," Little said. "The health system is coping - it's under pressure - but it's coping.
"We're shifting a lot more of the monitoring of people who are infected into their homes and setting up systems to be able to do that; that is a health system that is able to cope… that gives us confidence that we can continue to move down the restrictions that we've got in place at the moment."
Little said the final preparations needed for Auckland's move to the traffic light system would be ironed out in the next few weeks.
The Government was still pushing to get as many vaccines in arms as possible, he said.