Newshub can reveal Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield advised the Government "the rest of New Zealand could move to Alert Level 1" back in September.
The Government dropped a heap of documents related to the COVID-19 Delta outbreak response on Friday, revealing behind-the-scenes advice from the Ministry of Health that informed alert level decisions.
In a document dated September 12, Dr Bloomfield advised Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Cabinet that Auckland could shift to alert level 3 while "the rest of New Zealand could move to Alert Level 1".
He advised the shift down the alert levels despite 43 new community cases of COVID-19 announced that day, more than 2260 active cases in the community, and just 63 percent of the eligible population fully vaccinated.
"I consider that the outbreak in Auckland is becoming contained," Dr Bloomfield wrote in his advice. "Cabinet could agree to move the rest of the country to Alert Level 1, pending no escalation in Auckland's COVID-19 risk."
The Government did not shift the rest of the country to alert level 1, which basically lifts all restrictions except for the border. While it would have been welcome news from hospitality businesses, the rest of New Zealand has been kept at alert level 2.
The Government did, however, shift Auckland down to alert level 3.
"Evidence suggests that the outbreak within Auckland is becoming contained to clearly identifiable communities but there remains a risk of undetected cases," Dr Bloomfield wrote in his advice.
He recommended Auckland move to alert level 3 on September 16. The Government didn't move Auckland into alert level 3 until September 21.
Modelling shows a clear spike in the number of cases after Auckland's shift to alert level 3, and Ardern has said the move was necessary due to lack of compliance.
"One of the things that we've factored in, for instance, is what you saw in Australia was they had the same restrictions constantly and yet they saw, at a certain point, their cases tick up without having made any changes," she said last month.
"So one of the things in our thinking has been, over time, adhering to really strict restrictions is hard, and you can expect that human behaviour might change. "
However, Dr Bloomfield does not appear to mention lack of compliance in his advice. He seemed to believe the outbreak was contained.
"The outbreak in Auckland appears to have peaked on 28 August with daily numbers trending downwards."
Fast-forward to November, and there are more than 6300 active COVID-19 cases, spread across Auckland, Northland, Waikato, Tauranga, Rotorua and Palmerston North. But Auckland's 88 percent vaccination rate is helping to level off new cases.
Next Friday the whole of New Zealand will shift to the new COVID Protection Framework, or 'traffic light' system, to replace the alert levels. Freedoms will then be determined by vaccine certificates.