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Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Covid-19November 17, 2021

Revealed: When – and how – Aucklanders can travel for summer

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Covid restrictions preventing travel in and out of Auckland will lift on December 15, the government has announced. Here’s how it will work.

What’s all this then?

For several months, travel in and out of Auckland has been heavily restricted in an effort to prevent the delta outbreak spreading beyond its borders. Earlier this month, the prime minister told ZM the region’s boundaries would stay put for the summer, but people would be allowed to leave, with vaccination and/or testing requirements. Today, Jacinda Ardern announced a plan for this to happen.

Great, I’m an Aucklander. When can I get out?

December 15.

Great, I’m from outside Auckland but I want to visit. When can I come in?

December 15. But you’ll be subject to the same requirements as Aucklanders if you want to leave again.

What are those?

You’ll need either to be fully vaccinated or have a negative test within 72 hours of your departure.

I thought it was going to be a vaccination AND negative test requirement, not either/or?

That was never explicitly stated, but that’s how many people, including the National Party, interpreted Ardern’s comments to ZM, as well as remarks from Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins on RNZ later that day. It’s safe to say today’s announcement came as a bit of a surprise.

How will they check everyone leaving is complying with those requirements? Didn’t I hear something about travel time slots?

In that November 3 RNZ interview, Hipkins mentioned that one option being considered was giving Aucklanders a set time slot to leave the city. The idea was roundly panned and the following day, deputy prime minister Grant Robertson said it wouldn’t happen.

So what checks will be in place instead? Can I expect big queues of traffic at the northern and southern borders?

It appears there will no longer be hard boundaries or even checkpoints at the edge of the Auckland region, so perhaps not (though let’s be honest, this is Auckland – there will be traffic).

“Police will have operational discretion on the enforcement of these rules. Police undertake random spot checks to enforce a range of laws on our roads, such as drink driving, and will take the same approach here,” according to a press release from the prime minister.

It will be a bit stricter at the northern boundary, the gateway to low-vaccinated Northland. “Police will work with iwi to ensure people can move, but also that the people of Northland have confidence in the checks that are in place.”

For those heading south from Auckland, it remains to be seen to what extent these “random spot checks” will be used.

What will those spot checks look like, and will there be a penalty if you’re caught out?

It’s safe to say police will be asking to see your My Vaccine Pass (more details on that here) or the official text message confirming a negative test. And yep, there’ll be an infringement fine of $1,000, and presumably you’ll be turned back.

What about if I’m flying? 

The same rules apply to air travel, and will be a lot easier to enforce – presumably, adding a vaccine pass/test result check to the normal boarding pass check shouldn’t be too arduous. Handily, Air New Zealand is introducing a vaccination or testing requirement on December 15 for all its domestic flights anyway. It’s not clear if Jetstar will do the same, but the airline has said it will comply with any government requirements for vaccination and testing.

What about the inter-island ferry? Is anything being done to protect the South Island?

No special restrictions will be put in place, but Ardern said, “we will be enabling inter-island ferries to require proof of vaccination or a negative pre-departure test in order to travel between Wellington and Picton”. As of a couple of days ago, KiwiRail was still considering introducing such a requirement for its inter-islander ferries.

Will this soft border around Auckland remain in place for ever?

It appears not. According to today’s announcement, the vaccination or testing requirement “will be in place for the core summer period of December 15 2021 to January 17 2022″.

Why do we have to wait a month? Why can’t Aucklanders leave now?

“We have deliberately set the date for the boundary restrictions to change in a month’s time in order to give the rest of New Zealand time to move into the safer traffic light system and the chance to increase vaccination rates even further,” said Ardern.

What’s the deal with those vaccination rates? Are we at 90% yet?

Not yet: “Eighty-two percent of New Zealanders are now fully vaccinated compared to just 23% when delta arrived three months ago, so we are in a much safer position to ease boundary restrictions.

“We will be in an even safer position by mid-December when it’s expected New Zealand as a whole will be around 90% fully vaccinated.”

And the traffic light system – what’s the story with that?

Ardern also announced today that the rest of New Zealand will move into the traffic light system at the same time as Auckland does, expected to be soon after November 29. Check out our live updates for the deal on that move, and our Covid-19 protection framework explainer for a refresher of what exactly that is.

How has today’s boundary announcement been received?

The decision has been criticised by the Green Party, with co-leader Marama Davidson saying vaccination rates in vulnerable populations were not yet high enough.

“Aucklanders have being doing it really tough, but we have to hold the line to keep everyone safe while vaccination rates increase, particularly when so many of our vulnerable communities are still at risk,” said Davidson in a statement.

“Labour is making a mistake by committing itself to opening the Auckland border before evidence is known about how the traffic light system is working and cases have stabilised. A date for opening the border should only be agreed once vaccination levels are equitably high, the traffic light system tested and refined, and regional health systems prepared.”

National wasn’t happy either, criticising a lack of detail in the announcement and saying the plan would bring a “summer of chaos”.

“The prime minister was unable to answer basic questions about how the new stop and search travel system would even work,” said leader Judith Collins in a statement. “No idea how many cars police would be pulling over each day. No idea whether people would need to provide photo ID alongside their vaccine certificate. No idea if this would apply to 12-year-olds or just adults.

 “No idea if someone if someone is pulled over just south of Auckland, how will police know whether they have come from Huntly or Auckland?”

Professor Nick Wilson from the University of Otago’s public health department said he would have liked to see “persisting stronger attempts to keep the Covid-19 outbreak contained to Auckland” until vaccination rates were higher, and said protection for the South Island was too weak. “It should include other requirements such as a negative rapid antigen test result at the point of boarding a flight or ferry to the South Island.”

Dr Rawiri Jansen of the National Hauora Coalition, meanwhile, said, “I’m feeling resigned to the government’s changes – more loosening leads to more spread, with the greatest impact upon whānau with the least resources.”

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