Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says a no jab - no entry policy in crowded places is likely to be part of a suite of measures to control Covid-19 and as an incentive to get vaccination rates up.
Speaking to the Weekend Herald about the hopes of getting at least 90 per cent of the country vaccinated, Ardern said 90 per cent plus was a promise of a life that was "more normal."
She described it as a "golden ticket" which would mean no, or restricted lockdowns.
Instead, Ardern said measures that did not have big impacts on daily life could be used.
The details of the restrictions that would apply at high vaccination rates would be released in the next few weeks.
She confirmed it was likely to include vaccination passes - restricting entry to some venues to vaccinated people only or possibly those who could prove a negative test.
Such a tool could be useful if vaccination uptake stalled short of 90 per cent mark, as it would act as an incentive for people to get vaccinated.
"But they might not necessarily be something that you have to use forever. Denmark used them for a period, a few months, and now it is optional."
It is a change of heart by the Prime Minister, who has previously said she was not comfortable with such a measure.
In an interview with the NZ Herald in early August, Ardern said she was not keen on measures being used in countries such as France and Denmark where only vaccinated people were allowed into crowded venues such as restaurants, sports stadiums, concerts and night clubs.
"People would not consider it freedom of movement if you're only able to go and partake in activities if you're vaccinated. That's a very different style of approach," Ardern said then.
Asked what had changed since then, Ardern said she had seen how they worked alongside other measures in other countries.
"Having panned around now, I can see how they can fit into a toolbox. The other thing we're seeing is some countries have used them initially for a period of time. It has helped increase vaccination rates and then they have not had to continue using them."
"So I do think options like that we should consider whether or not it is an extra way we can still get to go out and enjoy events and things in a way that doesn't come at a great cost to everyone."
Ardern said it could be part of a wider framework that could apply to help avoid lockdowns. "You might have some day to day measures, so you give a little bit every day so as not to have lockdowns every once in a while. It doesn't have to be a huge departure from freedom."
Ardern spoke to the Weekend Herald soon after modelling by Te Pūnaha Matatini was released, indicating vaccination rates above 90 per cent of the population were needed to be sure of avoiding lockdowns and border restrictions.
The Herald last Saturday launched a campaign to get 90 per cent of eligible New Zealanders vaccinated by Christmas.
Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield has also said 90 per cent is "mission critical."
Ardern said "90 plus" was her own hope.
"We're not just saying 90 for the sake of it. 90 is what makes life feel more normal. And I think that's what people are looking for. They're saying what is going to make the difference to us in getting back to a way of life that doesn't have the anxiety that everyone has had for a year and a half."
The Pfizer vaccine is already approved for children over 12 in New Zealand, but extending that could be critical to getting more than 90 per cent of the population vaccinated.
Ardern said she would "absolutely" have her daughter Neve vaccinated when Neve was eligible for it.
"Absolutely, if it went through our processes as it has every step of the way. As I've said before with the decisions that were made for the 12-plus [group], we sat around as both politicians and parents."
Pfizer says it has confirmed a safe and effective paediatric dose of its vaccine for children aged 5 – 12.
Ardern said the dose for young children would go through the MedSafe process in New Zealand and the Covid health advisory group would consider it before Cabinet decided whether to push the green light on it.
She said New Zealand had ordered more than enough Pfizer vaccines to cover the younger children if needed. The children's version was a smaller dose of the same vaccine being used for adults.
While vaccinations might help prevent future lockdowns, it is unlikely to have much impact on shortening the restrictions needed to deal with this outbreak.
The push to get Auckland vaccinated over the lockdown period lifted the numbers with at least one dose up to 80 per cent in Auckland.
However, only about 43 per cent were fully vaccinated so far.
Ardern said that meant the aim for this outbreak was still elimination and lockdown levels were still needed.
"What matters is people getting double vaccinated. We need people to have the full vaccination to get the full benefits that vaccinations bring. We need to see that in Auckland and elsewhere.
"So when we moved to three, it was not because we've seen good vaccination rates."
Ardern said about 95 per cent of people had been getting that second dose so she was confident.
The rates of those fully vaccinated are expected to catch up over the next six weeks as those people who got their first jabs during the six weeks of lockdowns return to get their second doses.
Auckland is at level 3 until at least October 4, when it will be reviewed.
The decision around whether the outbreak in Auckland was contained enough to move to level 2 would be made regardless of the vaccination rates at the time.
Where to get a vaccination in Auckland - without a booking
"Auckland would not have to be at zero cases [to drop to level 2] but it would have to be well contained."
She said decisions had not yet been made on what that would mean for travel to other regions from Auckland if Auckland was at Delta 2, and the rest of New Zealand at a lower level.
Ardern remained confident New Zealand could once again return to being Covid-free - and did not believe Auckland would need to be put back into level 4 to get there.
She said she was not nervous about the extra activity at level 3 – or the younger, less vaccinated population going back to work.
She said previous outbreaks had only required level 3 – and while this was Delta, it should be possible to stamp out the tail end of the outbreak at level 3.
The first days of level 3 had delivered case numbers of less than 20, but mostly household or close contacts.
The Tattoo Challenge:
Ardern has issued a challenge to Auckland to get to a 90 per cent vaccination rate as soon as possible – and the NZ Herald had its own 90 per cent challenge for Ardern.
In the past Ardern has said she had wanted a tattoo of explorer Ernest Shackleton.
Asked if she would get that tattoo if we got to 90 per cent, Ardern laughed and said she would think about it.
"Do you know what, if I thought putting myself on the line in that way would get New Zealand to 90 per cent, there are actually quite a few things I would agree to do. That's how much it means to me.
"Everyone has given up so much already for that same goal. We're now just asking people to do something a little extra to help with that. But not quite a tattoo. Let me come back to you."