COVID-19: New Zealand would go back to alert level system 'if things got really bad' - Chris Hipkins

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says New Zealand could revert from the traffic light system back to alert levels - and potential lockdowns - as a "backup plan" if a vaccine-resistant variant arrived here.

His comments come after accusations from the Opposition the COVID-19 Response (Vaccinations) Legislation Bill, which will allow the Government to implement the traffic light system, was rushed through Parliament.  

The Bill passed under urgency on Wednesday.

"Parliamentary urgency is never an ideal situation," Hipkins admitted on Thursday. "I'd rather us put things through a more regular Parliamentary process and that there was more Select Committee scrutiny and people had the opportunity to have their say.

"The reality is all of those things take time and when you've got people sitting at home waiting to get their freedom back, we want to move as quickly as we can," he told The AM Show.

Hipkins said the Government was "absolutely committed to the traffic light system" but a backup plan if it didn't work or "if things got really bad" would be to revert back to alert levels.

"We've got multiple plans but even with multiple plans, it's still an uncertain environment and you still have to keep readjusting."

He said reverting to alert levels would be a last resort, as the Government believes it can manage COVID-19 cases in the community.

Hipkins said a vaccine-resistant variant of COVID-19 is one thing that could trigger a reversion back to the alert level system.

"Given the spread of the virus around the globe, that is possible that could happen and, therefore… that does put us back quite a long way.

"It's a possibility - it's one that we do have to have contingency plans for but it is, of course, not what we think is going to happen.

"The most likely scenario, and the one that we've got a plan [for] we're rolling out now, is that we will learn to live with COVID-19 in the community."  

Hipkins said it's hoped the booster vaccine programme, which gets underway next week, will keep New Zealand a step ahead of any potential virus variants.