Jacinda Ardern has stepped in to correct comments Ashley Bloomfield made yesterday, suggesting New Zealand would likely need to be at "Level 2.5" to be able to successfully manage the opening of the country's border.
It comes as conversations are emerging about when international travel might resume.
On Wednesday, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, said New Zealand would be "unlikely" to see significant volumes of travellers beyond safe zones this year and possibly early into next year.
The Director General of Health said yesterday that along with the vaccine, international travel resuming will also require a “step up” in terms of health-protective behaviours - "more of a 2.5 level".
But Ardern said what he meant was Level 1.5 - upping the "buffers" when the borders do eventually open.
"I spoke to [Bloomfield] and he said he was referencing more a 1.5 environment, with things like QR code scanning, those kind of things we need to be aware of on a day-to-day in that transition period," Ardern told Newstalk ZB this morning.
She said there was no expectation that New Zealanders would have to live at Alert Level 2.5 for three to five years.
"A lot of it is going to come down to how many people we have vaccinated, the more people we have vaccinated the more freedom we can have," she said.
It's unclear why Bloomfield made the suggestion that mass vaccination would need to go hand in hand with a big step up in Alert Levels. He went as far to say that "life is pretty much back to normal" at Level 2.
Restrictions at Alert Level 2 include gathering limits of 100 people only. This includes all events, such as funerals, weddings, religious gatherings, sports and music events.
Businesses are also required to maintain social distancing requirements and wear face masks if people operate in close proximity.
Social distancing is also required.
But restrictions at Alert Level 2.5 are even more stringent.
Auckland experienced a Level 2.5 lockdown after it emerged from Level 3 in August last year.
Social gatherings in Level 2.5 were limited to 10 people, while authorised tangihanga or funerals were limited to 50.
Schools and business were able to stay open, as could gyms and public and event venues albeit with a limit of 100 people.
Two metre social distancing was also mandatory.
Bloomfield explained he believed Level 2.5 would need to be a part of keeping the virus out of the country if the borders were to open to even "low risk" countries.
“Vaccination will be a really significant part of us being able to keep New Zealanders safe and protected, no doubt about that," he said yesterday.
“However it will still only be a part of that,” Bloomfield said.
“I strongly believe that even alongside vaccination, we may well need to lift our baseline level of public health protective behaviours as part of our move to open up to even a wider group of low risk countries, let alone beyond that.
“We might need to go up a level. But once we are at Alert Level 2, life is pretty much back to normal - aside from those of us who occasionally or more occasionally use public transport where we have to use a mask.
“It may well be that we need to be more of a 2.5 level as our baseline alongside vaccination as part of the protections we need in place routinely, to open up the border."
The vaccine rollout started in February and while it has had some hiccups, there is an expectation that the rest of New Zealand’s population will be vaccinated from July onwards, according to Covid-19 Response Minister, Chris Hipkins.
Hipkins has also previously said he hopes to have “as many people as possible” vaccinated by the end of 2021.