Auckland has now returned to alert level 1 – with no restrictions on crowd gatherings – 14 days since the last community case of Covid-19, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced.
The move is a godsend for organisers of major events such as the America’s Cup – two races are scheduled for each of Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons – the Auckland Cup horse-racing event on Saturday and the Blues-Highlanders Super Rugby match on Sunday.
The Government has been under fire for not announcing the decision despite Cabinet meeting last night. Ardern said the Government wanted to wait to see the results of the last day-12 tests.
Shortly after 11.30am, she confirmed Auckland would move out of level 2 at midday today after the Valentine’s Day cluster was contained.
She thanked Aucklanders but said it’s now time to “maintain the position we have all worked so hard for”.
“Look after one another and enjoy your weekend,” she said.
Asked why Cabinet didn’t just meet this morning, she said that sometimes there was a “lag process” when it came to drafting the alert level change order. So doing it last night and “pre-preparing” meant that the move could be made as quickly as possible.
She said she hadn’t seen her partner Clarke Gayford since yesterday and she pushed back strongly on the implication that he knew about the decision.
Earlier today, Gayford waded into the conversation about the Government’s somewhat delayed move to announce whether Auckland would be moving down alert levels.
Former Wellington chef Martin Bosley took to Twitter to share his view ahead of the 11.30am announcement.
“Feeling really sorry for all Auckland hospo having to wait until 11.30am today to find out about moving levels,” Bosley wrote. “It’s utterly ludicrous. Stay strong, my friends. Keep the faith.”
The PM’s fiance, Gayford, replied to the Tweet; saying: “Martin an inprinciple decision was decided but its all pending on final test results (sic).”
Ardern said she had always said the the decision would be made before the weekend. “We have always taken a cautious approach.”
She said she hadn’t set a date for her vaccination yet – “but I do accept I am a role model”.
The decision had been signalled. Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said recently he was “optimistic” Auckland would be at alert level 1 this weekend.
And this morning, senior minister David Parker told the AM Show it was “looking good” for an alert level change.
That optimism was underpinned by the fact there hasn’t been a Covid-19 community case in two weeks – despite the fact there have been tens of thousands of Covid-19 tests in Auckland over that time.
Ardern said Cabinet’s discussion last night was a “preliminary one”.
It was based on the results from this morning – which came back with no new community cases.
The majority of New Zealand’s frontline workers have now been vaccinated.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said people needed to temper celebrations with the awareness that the rampant nature of the virus internationally and the number of returning New Zealanders in quarantine who are testing positive means we cannot rule out further incursions.
“The strongest protection against community transmission will be the widespread vaccination of New Zealanders,” Goff said.
“With Aucklanders most often the ones forced to live under the restrictions of level 2 and 3, it makes sense for Aucklanders to get vaccinated after sections of the community most at risk and before the general rollout of the vaccine across the country.
“I want health authorities and the government to take the level of risk and the burden carried by this community into account before the general rollout of the vaccine in July.
“As New Zealand’s largest city and international border Auckland has significantly more managed isolation and quarantine facilities than the rest of the country combined — nine times as many as Wellington and three times as many as Christchurch.
“Auckland is the region most susceptible to another outbreak. We don’t want to face the health risks of a further incursion and we want to avoid the costs imposed on jobs, incomes and business by going into lockdown. I hope these facts are taken into account when the wider rollout is implemented.”
Restaurant Association CEO Marisa Bidois also welcomed the return to level 1, saying it would allow “our Auckland based businesses to recoup some revenue after prolonged periods of restricted trading”.
“We want to send a clear message to Kiwis that this city is very much open for business. So if you’re an Aucklander, we encourage you put down your cook books and visit the fantastic eateries that are ready and waiting to serve you,” Bidois said.
“We also need our government to come to the table and show some kindness towards those industries most hard hit by the pandemic. The constant last-minute closures and restrictions on trading put untenable financial and emotional strain on owners. Over the last few weeks, I have personally taken calls from owners in tears of frustration, on the verge of losing everything they have worked so hard for.
“We are now seeing the fallout from a year of doing it tough, with businesses closing and people losing their livelihoods.”
Bidois also called on the Government to “step up and ensure that our industry is not overlooked when allocating relief”.
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