David Seymour says New Zealand may need to accept a new normal that the "virus is here to stay and we must learn to live with it" as some businesses won't survive a second lockdown.
The ACT leader spoke to media as Cabinet meet this afternoon to discuss whether or not lockdown will be extended. An announcement on that decision is scheduled for 5.30pm.
Currently, Auckland is at Alert Level 3 and the rest of the country is in Level 2.
It comes after four people in a South Auckland family became the first cases of community transmitted Covid-19 in NZ in over 100 days on Tuesday. There are now 38 cases of the virus linked to the cluster.
"There's obviously a huge amount of anxiety out there and growing frustration with the performance of the border security and the Government's public health approach that has let this back in," Mr Seymour said.
"I think the overwhelming sense is that we must be optimistic that tonight the Government will feel it's in a position to lift the restrictions because more than anything else people in business are telling me they simply cannot afford another lockdown.
"If a lockdown is required to maintain elimination then it is time to have an honest conversation about accepting a new reality that the virus is here to stay and we must learn to live with it intelligently.
"One thing New Zealanders were very clear about today is that they cannot afford a rolling mall of blunt and expensive lockdowns."
Mr Seymour said New Zealand needed to be like Taiwan and minimise the impact of Covid-19 and the economy simultaneously.
The nation of around 24 million people has had 481 cases of Covid-19 and seven deaths, according to John Hopkins University.
"I don't think that people are going to accept having a lockdown as the only tool to deal with an outbreak," Mr Seymour said. "I don't think that continuing lockdown is the answer."
When pressed on what levels he believes the nation should be at, he said, "I think you can forgive them for saying Auckland can stay at Level 3 for the rest of the weekend and have several days at Level 2 next week, but that's the maximum that people can tolerate".
Mr Seymour also said people in Auckland, mainly Epsom where he is based, were "absolutely flabbergasted" at the performance of some in Government.
He said he'd heard of produce stores having to shut down and butchers down 80 per cent, as well as businesses in the hospitality sector losing thousands of dollars after buying stock for the weekend. He also said a taxi driver who started at 5am didn't get his first fare until 9.30am.
"I think the economic devastation and the anxiety that causes has been massively underestimated by the Government.
"I think that their rather knee-jerk response of going straight to lockdown, while understandable if it works, it means if it doesn't work there's going to have to be a review of the strategy."
Whilst critising the Government's handling of the pandemic, Mr Seymour also took aim at Deputy Leader Winston Peters today over his comments to overseas media that a quarantine breach may be the cause of Auckland's latest outbreak of Covid-19.
Yesterday evening, Mr Peters said on Australian TV that he was given the information by a New Zealand journalist, who he said was "usually very reliable".
"It wasn't an official, I found out from somewhere else, but I think there's been a breach inside our quarantine system," Mr Peters said in an interview with ABC.
He said while "a lot of the conversation and a lot of the narrative is speculation", the country should know "the exact details of what happened".
However, Mr Seymour called time on Mr Peters being Deputy Prime Minister after the statement.
"Winston Peters speculating, flying kites as the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister on foreign television - totally unacceptable and unbecoming of a Deputy Prime Minister," he said.
"I think that's more evidence the guy has to go."
Finally, Mr Seymour said if a lockdown goes on, it would be unacceptable to have an election on September 19 "with voters and candidates effectively under house arrest".