National leader Chris Luxon has dubbed Auckland's 'red' traffic light rules "harsh" but Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson says the "significant" outbreak makes it necessary.
Aucklanders woke up to their first day of the new traffic light system on Friday, after more than three months in lockdown. Freedoms are now determined by vaccination status and gathering rules at each setting.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said this week Auckland, along with more than 10 other regions with COVID-19 cases or low vaccination rates, would begin at the most restrictive 'red' level, which only allows gatherings of up to 100 vaccinated people.
Luxon says due to Auckland's high vaccination rate - 90 percent of the eligible population is now fully inoculated - the city should be in the less restrictive 'orange' level, which has no gathering restrictions for vaccinated people.
"Yeah, absolutely," Luxon told reporters in Auckland on Friday, when asked if the city should be in 'orange' now.
"This sector here is ready for Auckland to go straight to 'green', because if you follow the logic of the traffic light system, 'red' is for when we have an overwhelmed healthcare system, 'orange' obviously under some pressure, and 'green' fine. There's just no logic to this traffic light system at all.
"That is designed for when the country has an overwhelmed health system and by the Prime Minister's own admission, she's saying the healthcare system is fine, and we have some of the highest vaccination rates of any city on planet Earth."
Luxon said it's "harsh news" for bars and restaurants across Auckland who "suffered 100 days of lockdown" and who now will be unable to host large Christmas and New Year events.
"We haven't prepared the country. We had a good 2020 but we've had a really terrible 2021 and that's because the Government has wasted the opportunity to get ready for it."
Luxon said National doesn't support the traffic light system at all and doesn't think the South Island should have restrictions.
"It makes no sense, frankly, the whole of the South Island being in 'orange'. That's our issue with the whole traffic light system. It's another example of a government that's just doing things on the fly and making it up as it goes and it's always Johnny-come-lately, right? It's always never quite thought through.
"We don't support the traffic light system. Our view is very clear that when we get to a high level of double vaccination, we're good to go, and we have to open up the country and get going. We can do that safely and with good precautions."
Robertson says it's possible Auckland could shift to 'orange' when the Government reviews the traffic light settings on December 13.
"It is possible but I don't want to preempt the decision," he told reporters.
"We still have a significant outbreak of COVID-19 in Auckland and whilst the number of cases coming down is very encouraging, it is still a significant outbreak.
"Throughout the whole period of COVID-19, we have moved cautiously and methodically and actually, the result of that is that we have managed to keep the number of deaths low, the number of hospitalisations relatively low, and I stand by that approach.
"I've certainly heard from the Opposition many different ideas about moving more quickly at different times. From our perspective, we think the proof of the pudding is there."
Robertson acknowledged the "encouraging signs" in Auckland, with just 92 cases registered on Friday, compared to 157 on both Wednesday and Thursday.
"We look at the status of the outbreak and that is the significant issue for the Auckland region - how big it is, how widespread it is; we're seeing good signs there but we obviously want to get updated advice as we move towards the 13 December check-in.
"Then there are the issues around the health system - the ability for it to cope. Again, it's holding up well, but we need to keep monitoring that.
He said the Government also looks at "the contact tracing systems and making sure that they work well and then an analysis around the impact on vulnerable populations.
"We'll look across all of those criteria. Auckland's doing well but we will continue to move cautiously when we've had such a significant outbreak there."