Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says advice his team provided that Auckland could reopen sooner was just "one piece of advice" the Government was given about its Covid-19 response.
Bloomfield and Health Minister Andrew Little were grilled about health spending and the Covid-19 response at a select committee this morning.
It comes as the NZ Herald revealed Bloomfield's initial advice to the Government was for Auckland's boundary restrictions to have already been lifted and for the whole country, bar Auckland and Northland, to be in the orange setting.
Bloomfield's affidavit to a Waitangi Tribunal hearing on the traffic light system also showed the Ministry of Health initially thought some regions should start in green - though this was later revised due to the spread of Delta outside Auckland.
That was despite its concerns that starting the traffic light system in early December could put vulnerable Māori at greater risk.
Under questioning from National MP Chris Bishop, Bloomfield confirmed that was their advice. He said it was based on high vaccination rates in Tāmaki Makaurau.
The advice was outlined in a ministry paper on November 24, two days after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had already announced the new system starting from December 3.
Ardern ultimately took a far more cautious stance than the ministry, with several districts outside Auckland and Northland — Taupō and Rotorua Lakes, Kawerau, Whakatane, Ōpōtiki, Gisborne, Wairoa, Rangitikei, Whanganui and Ruapehu — also in red for at least two weeks, no region in green, and movement in and out of Auckland only starting from December 15.
Bloomfield told the committee their advice was that those nearly two weeks might push the vaccination rates up a few percentage points but there was no "material risk" to opening up Auckland sooner.
However, he said advice was sought from other parts of government for the Cabinet to make its decision.
On the vaccine rollout, Bloomfield said everything was still on track for the Pfizer vaccine to be available for 5 to 11-year-olds by the end of January next year.
The Ministry of Health was "talking daily" with Pfizer to ensure vaccines would arrive as quickly as possible after it was approved by MedSafe here, he said.
The Waitangi Tribunal this week heard from experts saying Māori children needed to be prioritised through this phase to avoid the inequities experienced in the previous phases.
Bloomfield said they would be doing things differently, and working more closely with iwi, Māori health providers and community organisations.
On the recent High Court ruling for the ministry to reconsider withholding Māori vaccination data from Whānau Ora, Bloomfield said "good progress" had been made sharing this data where it was needed after discussions had been made with relevant iwi.
Under questioning from Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer about the inequitable rollout, Little said he accepted some actions "came somewhat late in the piece".
Some DHBs had done well to engage with Māori services, while others hadn't and this "became evident by the outbreak in August".
Since then Te Arawhiti (Office for Māori Crown Relations) and Te Puni Kōkiri Ministry of Maori Development had been brought on to assist, but challenges remained, Little said.
He referred to an initiative in Te Tai Tokerau (Northland) where a local gang was running a mobile vaccination clinic, and even they were copping abuse from the public.
"They said they had never seen anything like it, but were determined to see it through."
The select committee hearing also saw the health reforms and mental health spending interrogated. The Government is disbanding the DHBs model in favour of a centrally run Health NZ agency with a Maori Health Authority parallel to it.
In June it was revealed just $24.9m of $438.3 million set aside in Budget 2018 and 2019 for building and refurbishing mental health facilities had been spent.
Little did not say exactly how much more that had increased by but said he was "satisfied" with where the situation was currently at.
Of five projects, four were "well advanced" with construction to begin early next year.
The fifth and largest, in Waikato, had been victim of "internal DHB issues", Little said, but he expected "significant progress" next year.
National's Matt Doocey pressed the minister on the fact over that time of minimal spending the mental health bed occupancy had increased from 80 to 90 per cent (from May 2020 to September 2021), which was above clinical guidelines.
Doocey also pointed to the fact police were now responding to only half of the mental health callouts, and criticised the Government ending pilots of mental health staff accompanying police on callouts.
Little said there were a variety of new responses, borne out of the 2018 mental health review He Ara Oranga, which led to new investments in 2019 and 2020 and were "making material differences today".