The head of an independent expert advisory group is advising caution around dampening the use of vaccine passes to narrow the divide between the vaccinated and the unvaccianted under the traffic light system.
Sir Brian Roche also told the health select committee this morning that strong border controls were prudent to have at the moment, especially as the Omicron variant spreads around the world at great pace.
The different freedoms around gathering limits and how businesses can operate under the new system have been at the centre of many protests around the country, though polls have generally shown majority support for vaccine mandates.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has likened the new system to creating two classes of people, with far more freedoms available to the vaccinated than the unvaccinated, and has said there will come a time when they are no longer needed.
But she has also cautioned against dropping public health measures, which have been scrapped in many countries overseas but then reintroduced after case numbers spiked.
Roche acknowledged that some may find it uncomfortable to have vaccine passes.
"It is a little unusual for New Zealand, but so was having to wear a seatbelt 30, 40 years ago. Society has shown that when there is collective benefit, we can do individual things."
He said his group had encouraged "the broadest possible base for it", and documents submitted for a Waitangi Tribunal hearing show that the Ministry of Health changed its mind after intially thinking vaccine passes wouldn't be needed under the green setting.
There are now different freedoms for the vaccinated and the unvaccinated at every setting in the traffic light system.
"At some point they could be diminished but we would be very cautious, very prudent," Roche told the committee.
"Why would we take unnecessary risk? I would be suggesting that we adopted very cautious, prudent evidence base before there is any recalibration or reduction."
Roche, who chairs the continuous improvement committee advising the Government's Covid response, also said a similar approach should be taken before the border is loosened.
"And I say this as somebody whose son is currently in MIQ in Auckland, so I have followed this at a personal level. We are now reflects the risk that we face. There's a new variant in the world, so having some barrier at the border is a very prudent thing to do," he said.
"The minimum should be the maximum. When you've had pre-departure tests, tests on arrival, and tests on day one, day three and day five, you do have to question what is the appropriate and sustainable length of time."
His appearance before the committee follows revelations this morning that the Government acted far more conservatively than what public health advice recommended in moving to the traffic light system.
That advice included removing the Auckland boundary at the same time as moving the country into the new system, and starting with only Auckland and Northland at the red setting.
Instead the Government has left the boundary in place longer to give other regions more time to boost vaccination rates, and put more districts into red including Taupō and Rotorua Lakes, Kawerau, Whakatane, Ōpōtiki, Gisborne, Wairoa, Rangitikei, Whanganui and Ruapehu.
Roche told the committee that his group's voice had been heard, though it wasn't always listened to.
In their September report, Roche recommended vastly boosting testing, contact tracing and health system infrastructure, and more engagement with Māori service providers - all of which have since been adopted.
But the advice to set up a single Covid response agency has not been actioned, which Roche said would provide improved strategic oversight and clearer accountability, while also leaving Government agencies to better perform their non-Covid duties.
"The system we've got does work. It's not fundamentally flawed, but it relies on goodwill and patience, and you can't always rely on that," Roche told the committee.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has said it was better to have the system respond where it needed to rather than worry about "which umbrella tey sit underneath".
Roche said the Government wasn't against the idea, but rather didn't think it was worth doing while the system was under so much pressure.
"It's not that they think it's barking mad. They can see the merits, and the people in the system see the merits. We remain really optimistic that this is a timing issue."
Roche said the system was prepared for whatever Covid might throw at it over summer, but it remained to be seen if it will be able to handle it.
"In a way, you don't know what's going to happen until it happens.
"The proof will actually be in the delivery. And other than Auckland, the system hasn't had to deliver at scale."
He said the system wasn't unprepared for Delta, but it clearly could have been better prepared, especially regarding more innovative testing options such as PCR saliva and rapid antigen testing.
Looking forward, Roche said surveillance testing, supporting people isolating at home, and individuals doing the right thing will be important.
"We need to do give more tools to individuals to help protect themselves - vaccination, vaccine passports, and rapid antigen testing."
He also pitched for more use of the private sector, singling out airports and airlines for their role in the border restrictions, and more use of technology.
"And we wouldn't underestimate the proactive testing regime. The more we can do there, the safer we will be.
"All of those things are important. All of those things are underway and, regrettably, none of them give us a guarantee that we're not going to be impacted."
He added that greater community involvment - which has been happening, especially with Maori health providers - was also key.
"Community groups, giving them greater resources, greater flexibility - we can get both the central and the remote working in greater harmony.
"What I think we are looking for in the future is to ensure that there aren't gaps in the system so people don't fall through those gaps - we've seen evidence of that in Auckland recently with these two deaths [in home isolation] - that's a serious wake up call."
'On the face of it, the system is all ready to go'
His group's September report landed at a time when the number of daily cases in the current outbreak dropped to single digits, and a return to zero cases in Auckland was still on the cards.
It outlined aspects of the response that had not been up to scratch, including the "very poor level of preparedness of hospitals for Delta", a lack of funding for Māori providers, and limited testing capacity that could have ended up "compromising early outbreak containment".
A month later, the Government announced $120 million for Māori health providers to boost the vaccine rollout for Maori, and two months later, it launched a new system for taking care of cases in home isolation as well as rapid antigen testing (RAT) for businesses and, by buying them in pharmacies, for the general public.
A question mark remains, however, over contact-tracing capacity.
"The great unanswered question is the adequacy of what we have," Roche said last week.
He said the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet had been conducting regional tests for certain scenarios, though he didn't know specifics.
"They're taking what I'd described as quite a forensic approach to the level of resource available. On the face of it, the system is all ready to go," he said.
"Will it be enough? That will be displayed in real time in the next few weeks, few months."