Jacinda Ardern hits back at Christopher Luxon over 'her decision to ignore health advice' on COVID-19 traffic light system

The Government's decision to ignore some Ministry of Health advice about the new traffic light system was Christopher Luxon's ammo in his second standoff with Jacinda Ardern.

An affidavit to the Waitangi Tribunal reveals Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield advised the Government to drop the Auckland border in mid-December and to only move Auckland and Northland into the most restrictive 'red' setting.

But the Government has decided to maintain some requirements for Aucklanders leaving the city from December 15 - proof of vaccination, or a negative test result for the unvaccinated. It also decided to move several regions into 'red'.

The Government was more liberal, however, when it came to shifting to the new traffic light system. The Ministry of Health advised waiting until all three Auckland DHBs had reached 90 percent double vaccination which is yet to be achieved, but the Government decided to move to the traffic light system on December 3.

Luxon, National's new leader, asked Ardern in Parliament on Wednesday why she ignored advice from Dr Bloomfield that there was "no public health justification to maintain a boundary around Auckland around the COVID Protection Framework".

"What does she say to the thousands of Kiwis who have been kept from their family members saying goodbye to loved ones because of her decision to ignore health advice and instead maintain a hard Auckland border?"

Ardern responded: "What is fair to point out is when we changed that boundary, Health said we could simply lift it; our view was that the rest of New Zealand would appreciate additional measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.

"But Mr Speaker, it would be keeping with the member's 'let it rip' strategy with COVID."

Luxon, who went head-to-head with Ardern in Parliament for the first time on Tuesday, has been unforgiving of the Government's decision not to follow Dr Bloomfield's traffic light advice.

"If the public health advice is saying that the border is not needed, we've got Ashley Bloomfield telling us we've got very high levels of vaccination, we're well over 90 percent, what's the justification for it?" he told The AM Show.

ACT leader David Seymour was equally critical.

"If the Prime Minister had taken the public health advice we now know she received on 24 November, the South Island would be at 'green', the North Island would be at 'orange', and the Auckland border would be gone.

"Instead, we are all paying the cost... Major events are being cancelled and postponed because of crowd limits at 'red', when they could have gone ahead at 'orange'. This Government just has no idea of the costs it is imposing."

Ardern said it's not unusual for the Government to take its own view.

"I think what New Zealand has also been seeking from us is extra efforts to slow the spread of COVID, so we've balanced that and found a way that Aucklanders can move, but as safely as possible," she told reporters.

"All the way through the pandemic, there have been occasions where we've taken a slightly different view. I think the spirit of what we've been working towards remains the same. We wanted Aucklanders to be able to move but we wanted it to be as safe as possible for the rest of the country."

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said advice from the Ministry of Health isn't the only professional opinion the Government receives.

"I wouldn't say we ignored the advice at all. In fact, we weigh up all the advice we receive from Health and from other arms of government," he told reporters.

"We were talking quite frequently with some of the epidemiologists around the country, so we were getting a range of different advice there."

Dr Bloomfield told Parliament's Health Select Committee that about 10 percent of the Ministry of Health's advice isn't followed by Cabinet.

"I don't keep a tally but I would say it would be somewhere around 10 percent," the Director-General of Health said. 

"If you look at the advice we provided around the Auckland boundary, the timing of the removal of the boundary was just one part of a full sweep of advice around arrangements that would support the safe removal of that boundary.

"Most of that advice was accepted and has been translated into the Government's decisions, but rightly, our advice is just one input into the Government's decision-making, and occasionally, Cabinet decides to do something different and they have sought advice from other parts of government and indeed, from others outside of government."