Auckland going to Level 3; changes for the rest

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.


Auckland will end its five-week alert level 4 lockdown when it moves to level 3 for two weeks from 11.59 pm tomorrow night, with the rest of New Zealand to remain at level 2.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Cabinet’s decision shortly after 4pm, saying the Government remains committed to its “zero-tolerance for cases” approach and urging Kiwis to follow the rules.

One part of the Waikato, with three new cases, would temporarily move into a “bespoke” set of restrictions.

Reacting to the news, Covid-19 modeller Professor Michael Plank told the Herald it was a “calculated risk” moving Auckland to alert level three, warning there was a very real chance of returning to level four within a matter of weeks.

Announcing Cabinet’s decision alongside director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, Ardern said level 4 had helped contain the outbreak in Auckland, and that level 3 still “provided the rules to keep up that containment”.

The level 2 rules would be changed, however, to allow a maximum of 100 people to gather, including at hospitality venues, she said.

Ardern reminded Aucklanders that bubbles remained, but said “small” changes to the bubble were allowed to bring in someone who was in lockdown alone, or a caregiver.

People could not visit friends or neighbours, and children should not be allowed to play with each other.

Ardern said it was now known the Delta variant had been in the community for 7-10 days prior to the first case, and that level 4 “was the right move and has worked”.

She was confident that cases would continue to be “stamped out where they are found” – through contact tracing and testing at level 3.

“We would want a level of comfort we had those cases well under control in a level 2 environment, so that’s why we’ve said level three for at least two weeks,” Ardern said.

It was not simply a matter of case numbers – with many of the households in this outbreak large. High vaccination rates would undoubtedly be a game-changer, Ardern said – “but the keyword there is high”.

“To everyone, but especially Auckland, thank you for acting quickly and for persevering.”


Move a ‘calculated risk’ – expert

According to Covid-19 modeller Professor Michael Plank, we were still seeing some spread between households and it was proving difficult to stamp out – although the majority of cases were under control and were household or known contacts.

“The success of level 3 will depend on people following the advice to not break their bubble and to keep their bubble tight because that is going to be what stops the virus from spreading,” Plank said.

“There is a danger in level three that an increase in the number of people that were out and about could just make that spread between households all the more difficult to ring-fence.

“It relies to a large extent on people doing the right thing now.”

Plank said people meeting up with friends and family members not in their bubble was our biggest risk.

“It’s really important that people don’t take this reduction in alert level as a signal danger has passed.”