Will Auckland take the plunge? Experts on whether hospo and hairdressers will open

Author
Adam Pearse, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 21 Nov 2021, 10:01AM
Will Auckland take the plunge into alert level 3.3 tomorrow? Cabinet is set to decide but experts say it wouldn't be in the best interests of public health. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Will Auckland take the plunge into alert level 3.3 tomorrow? Cabinet is set to decide but experts say it wouldn't be in the best interests of public health. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Will Auckland take the plunge? Experts on whether hospo and hairdressers will open

Author
Adam Pearse, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 21 Nov 2021, 10:01AM

Public health experts say letting Auckland's bars, cafes and hairdressers open next week wouldn't be wise but one thinks the Government may make the move anyway with cases and hospitalisations remaining steady. 

Nearing 100 days in lockdown, Cabinet will re-evaluate Auckland's alert level setting tomorrow and consider whether a transition to alert level 3 step 3 would be viable. 

The move would be welcome salvation for hospitality and close contact businesses like hairdressers, which haven't been able to operate fully or at all in previous settings. 

If it was approved, it would likely be for a short time. On November 29, Cabinet is expected to approve New Zealand's shift into the new Covid-19 protection framework - the traffic light system - which will replace the alert level framework. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has indicated the move to the new system would take place very soon after Cabinet's approval. 

It comes as 172 new community cases were announced yesterday, one of which in Wellington - the region's first positive case in many weeks. 

The case, an essential worker who travelled down from Auckland to work on the Omāroro reservoir construction site in Mt Cook, was understood to be fully vaccinated and an active user of the Covid tracer app. 

Only one Wellington location of interest had been released as yet - a Countdown supermarket on Lambton Quay with the exposure event occurring on Tuesday between 7.12pm-7.30pm. 

So far, all testing of co-workers had returned negative results - giving Wellington mayor Andy Foster some comfort. 

"I think people should feel as though they can go about their normal lives but keep on doing the things that we do... mask-wearing, contact tracing, and if you're not feeling well, get yourself checked out," he said. 

Of yesterday's cases, 148 were in Auckland. The majority (97) of yesterday's cases nationwide were yet to be linked to the outbreak. 

University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said it wouldn't be at all wise to move Auckland to 3.3. 

"Given the number of cases in Auckland, that shift would result in significant increases in transmission," he said. 

He did acknowledge the decision to open retail businesses hadn't backfired as case numbers had levelled off over the past week, which he considered promising. 

"It's early days, but what we've seen really across Auckland and rest of the country is the numbers have really plateaued out in the last five or six days." 

Pasifika health leader Dr Collin Tukuitonga did not support the move to 3.3 if he looked from a purely public health perspective. 

However, with no dramatic rise in cases or hospitalisations (70 yesterday), Tukuitonga anticipated Cabinet would approve the transition. 

"Clearly the Government is pretty keen to relax things, so it's hard to see them not going to 3.3 because the numbers haven't exploded. 

"I imagine as each day goes by, the vaccination coverage improves and that would give the Government reason to push on to 3.3, that would be my guess." 

The number of hospitalised positive cases in intensive care or high dependency units had also dropped from 11 in recent days to five yesterday. 

It comes as the fourth anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine mandate protest drew thousands to the Auckland Domain yesterday. 

Surprisingly, Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki took the stage to address the crowd at one point, after he had missed the last October 30 protest over concerns around his bail conditions. 

Tamaki was charged with violating a Covid-19 lockdown order for attending and allegedly helping organise the first two Domain protests on October 2 and 16. 

Auckland District Court Judge Josephine Bouchier told Tamaki via an audio-video on October 20 that he could be released on bail provided he does not "organise or attend any protests in breach of any Covid-19 level requirement". 

Mansfield told the Herald yesterday that he expects Tamaki was compliant with his bail conditions around the Covid-19 Public Health Act. 

"The conditions are not intended to prevent him taking part in a lawful protest. Whether others agree with the protest or not - a protest is not an unlawful activity," Mansfield said. 

Police said in a statement they "will be following up and looking into whether there are any breaches with regard to today's activities" at the Domain when asked about Tamaki breaching his bail.