Auckland stays at level 2.5, rest of NZ likely to move to level 1 next week

Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 14 Sep 2020, 12:43PM

Auckland stays at level 2.5, rest of NZ likely to move to level 1 next week

Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 14 Sep 2020, 12:43PM

The Government has decided to extend alert level 2.5 in Auckland and to also keep the rest of the country at alert level 2.

Cabinet will review Auckland's settings on September 21 with a view to increasing gathering limits in Auckland if it is safe, which would come into effect on September 23.

Cabinet has agreed in principle that the rest of New Zealand will move to level 1 at 11.59pm on September 21.

Cabinet will confirm that decision when it meets earlier on September 21.

It follows just one Covid case today, in the community, and it appears that a worker at the Jet Park quarantine facility was infected at the hotel.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it only required one person travelling and attending a super-spreader event in another part of the country to spark a surge in cases.

Physical distancing requirements on planes and public transport will be eased. From today, airlines, buses and train operators do not need to maintain any seating restrictions, but mask use will continue to be compulsory.

The alert levels - what they mean

Auckland, the centre of the current outbreak, will stay at alert level "2.5", with a stricter social gatherings limit of 10 people except for funerals and tangi, which allow 50 people.

While the rest of the country is at alert level 2, social gatherings of up to 100 people are permitted.

Mask use was "key" at the current alert level settings, and Cabinet will consider whether to add them to level 1 settings when it meets next Monday, the PM said.

Coalition cracks - Winston speaks out

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said in a statement that he was invoking the Coalition Agreement's 'Agree to Disagree' provisions in light of Cabinet's decision to maintain alert level 2 settings outside Auckland.

"The Director-General of Health has stated that the Covid-19 outbreak in Auckland is contained. Additionally, he believes there is a low risk of transmission outside of Auckland," Peters said.

"These assessments are underpinned by a secure border, good levels of community testing and responsive contact tracing processes."

"New Zealand First notes that it will be around 120 days since the last community transmission or reported case – with the sole exception of the four Tokoroa cases, all linked to the Auckland cluster – outside of the Auckland region."

"Despite modelling suggesting a small risk of undetected cases outside Auckland, no evidence has yet emerged that this risk has been realised," Peters said.

Ardern said it was a "majority" decision in Cabinet and it wasn't unusual for NZ First ministers to take a different view.

Auckland economy 'bounces back'

Economic activity had bounced back since the move in Auckland to level 2.5, showing people had adapted well and further proof that the best move to a healthy economy was a health-based approach, Ardern said.

"Late restrictions, or those lifted too early, have allowed the exponential spread of the virus.

"Our plan is working, but it needs just a little bit more time."

She said keeping people safe from the virus was still New Zealand's strategy.

Following guidelines was important to get back to level 1 as soon as possible, she said.

Ardern made the announcement in Dunedin, where the Labour leader is campaigning today, following a teleconference meeting with Cabinet ministers this morning.

Ardern said if things continued to track as they are, New Zealand would be ready for restrictions to ease as she has signalled.

She said MIQ workers needed to track any symptoms and should stay home if sick, as well as take care with the clothes they wear at work. The Jet Park worker case was being well-managed.

She said modelling suggested that there was still a 25 per cent chance that cases might emerge, including outside of Auckland, due to inter-regional travel.

She said she expected that Bledisloe Cup games will take place in New Zealand, and the risk profile for Australian team members was different for, for instance, the South African team.

The Auckland cluster's 'trouble spot'

Ardern said 36 cases in the community have been identified since Auckland came out of level 3, most of whom were already in isolation when they tested positive.

Over 100,000 tests nationwide in that time had not showed any further transmission, despite the travel freedoms.

The new bereavement sub-cluster in the last two weeks, however, was a trouble spot, she said.

In the 14 days at 2.5, there have been new community cases every day except for one, and these cases "can still continue to pose risks", Ardern said.

Ardern said New Zealand had followed a cautious approach so far, and getting back to level 1 was a focus, but it had to happen in a sustained way that avoided yo-yoing back into lockdown.

"The last time Cabinet made a decision to move down from level 2 to level 1 we had spent 26 days at level 2, more than two transmission cycles and had gone 17 days without any new cases of Covid-19 in the country," Ardern said.

"So far we have spent 14 days at what we are calling 2.5 in Auckland and have had cases in the community continue to emerge every day bar one. While no new community cases is not a measure in and of itself for moving down levels, as we know more cases will emerge from this clusters tail, these cases can continue to pose risks."

New rules on planes

The NZ Aviation Coalition says the removal of physical distancing seating requirements on planes was great news for airlines.

It cleared the way for airlines to be able to fill their planes. For travellers this will mean more available seats, more flights and affordable fares to choose from, said co-chair Justin Tighe-Umbers.

''With school holidays coming up so many more Kiwis will now be able to get out around the country, visit loved ones or head on holiday.''

It was a pragmatic decision from the Ministry of Health which recognised that mandatory masks for everyone on board and existing airline measures will keep travellers safe.

''Having seating restrictions removed from Alert Level 2 means that the domestic network can continue to operate without losing up to three quarters of normal capacity which is impossible for airlines to keep up,'' he said.

One new case today

Today there was one new case, according to the Health Ministry.

The case is connected to the Botany group, the first case in the group for two weeks.

It is a female child who has been in isolation since August 30 due to being a close contact of a confirmed case.

Today's decision comes as health officials alerted the public to three new locations and dates that a Covid-positive person visited in Auckland before they knew they had the virus.

That has prompted public health experts to warn of the risk of community spread, and they expect alert level settings to remain as they are for some time yet.

Auckland Regional Public Health is warning the 89 people who attended certain classes at Les Mills in Takapuna on September 9 and 10 to stay at home and contact Healthline (0800 358 5453) as soon as possible.

The classes included the Wednesday, September 9, 5.30pm RPM Sprint class and 6.15pm Body Combat class, and the Thursday, September 10, 9.15am Body Combat class.

Others at the gym at the same time but not in those classes are casual contacts and are being asked to get tested.

An ARPHS spokesperson said the Covid-positive person also visited The Warehouse and Countdown in Milford on Thursday, September 10.

ARPHS said the risk to anyone who was at these other locations at the same time as the case is very low.

Yesterday there were two new cases, including a healthcare worker at the Jet Park quarantine facility and a person in managed isolation.

Today the Health Ministry said the Jet Park case has been genomically linked to three cases at the quarantine facility who are linked to the Auckland cluster.

The worker has five household contacts, and all have returned a negative test result.

Nine staff at the Jet Park who are close contacts have all returned a negative result.

All workers at the Jet Park are now being re-tested, and prevention measures including the use of personal protective equipment are being reviewed.

The wider Auckland cluster now has 177 cases, including 55 active cases.

There were 33 cases associated with the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship group, and 15 cases in the bereavement sub-cluster, 98 per cent of whom had been tested by yesterday