New Zealand's Covid response was world-leading in 2020, but now it is lagging behind, other countries, according to Winston Peters.
"We've fallen back dramatically because, in terms of the vaccine rollout which is our passport to a changed future, we're just far too slow," Peters told The Country's Jamie Mackay.
Peters said he agreed with Sir John Key, who had criticised the Government's Covid response in a recent opinion piece.
Peters also backed Key's concern on the economic effects of lockdowns.
"John Key is right about this. The massive loss financially is just building up our debt."
In his column, Key described New Zealand as a "smug hermit kingdom," a phrase which Peters found amusingly familiar.
"I hate to say this but on Q&A a whole week ago I used that phrase ... but anyway I saw John Key using it over the weekend so I thought, well, at least somebody heard."
Key called the Government's "enthusiasm to lock down our country" the "North Korean option", a sentiment Peters also agreed with.
"He's not wrong in doing that. The reality is that we've got a massive economic crisis on our hands.
"It's one thing to talk about the safety and the health of New Zealanders, which is a major priority, but we could handle both - had we got the rollout [out] fast enough."
Key outlined a five-point plan to tackle the pandemic, which included Covid passports and incentives to encourage the final 20 per cent of Kiwis who had not yet been vaccinated.
The idea of issuing a Covid passport was out of New Zealand's hands, Peters said.
"A Covid passport will be forced on us from abroad.
"We can have all the debate we like in this country, but if other countries say you're not coming in without a Covid passport, you won't be going in there - that's the reality."
Mackay asked Peters what he thought of issuing a vaccination passport so Kiwis could attend local events.
While Peters understood some people's concerns about restrictions to their freedoms, he said they needed to accept the responsibilities that came with this attitude.
"If you've got a restaurant and you're saying you can't come in unless you've been vaccinated, then that's it ... people are entitled to say our workforce needs to be protected.
"If you're going to stand around and arguing about your freedom - the answer is - you're free to not get vaccinated - but with it comes these responsibilities.
"You can not enforce yourself or your personality up close to people in certain environments - particularly inside."
Meanwhile, Peters blamed low numbers of Māori and Pasifika vaccination on the Government, saying these communities hadn't been "approached properly".
"How can you have 98 per cent rollout in Niue and 98 per cent rollout in the Cook Islands and then say it's a cultural problem in New Zealand? It's the approach.
Keeping Auckland in lockdown was the result of a "certain brand of people" not admitting to any other alternatives to approach the pandemic, Peters said.
He believed New Zealanders supported lockdowns because they hadn't been given a "viable alternative".
"If we were at the rollout level that we should be, then why would Auckland have to be in lockdown?"
"I don't want to get too serious about this, but the idea that you're going to eliminate Covid is a fiction. It's an epidemic that will be with us for decades now."
Also in today's interview: Peters talked rugby and paid tribute to Waka Nathan.