Auckland is moving out of lockdown, but restrictions will be phased out over a period of a few weeks. Here’s what you need to know.
The government has unveiled a plan to move Auckland out of its lengthy lockdown, and in doing so signalled a new way of managing Covid-19 for New Zealand.
The city remains in level three but restrictions will be phased out “carefully and methodically, with regular check-ins to ensure we’re continuing to actively control the virus”, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said this afternoon.
Step one: outdoor meet-ups, outdoor recreation and early childhood education
First up, from 11.59pm tomorrow, households will be able to interact – but no more than two at a time, a maximum of 10 people, and, crucially, outdoors only. “Children can have a playdate in a park, friends can meet outside for a walk, a picnic or a beer,” Ardern said. “You can slowly see people you have missed over these past seven weeks but please, one household at a time.” The outside element is crucial here, the prime minister said, as “the science tells us Covid finds it hard to spread outdoors”.
“Wear a mask, keep your distance if you take it off to eat or drink, give other groups a wide berth, but reach out and see people,” she added.
Ardern said the decision to allow outdoor gatherings was in part a response to an impatience with current measures, “to try and prevent any fraying at the seams by meeting inside”.
Early childhood education will return, but in bubbles of 10 children maximum – the exact number of children allowed per site will depend on its size and how many bubbles of 10 it can manage. ECE teachers are being encouraged to get tested before going back to work, and options are being looked at for regular surveillance testing, said Ardern.
People will be also now be able to move around Auckland for recreation purposes such as visiting the beach, sailing, playing bowls, doing outdoor yoga or CrossFit or going hunting, but it must be in groups of 10 people maximum, with distancing in place.
Step two: shops, pools and zoos
The next step, pencilled in for the week following but to be confirmed by cabinet at the time, will be a reopening of retail outlets, with masks and physical distancing, as well as public facilities such as pools and zoos.
Up to 25 people will be able to gather together but again, outdoors only.
Step three: hospitality, hairdressers and gatherings of up to 50
Step three, provisionally set for a week after this, “will bring back those higher-risk settings”.
That means hospitality will open – seated, separated and with a limit of 50. Close-contact businesses like hairdressers will also open with mask use and physical distancing. Gatherings will extend to 50.
We won’t progress to the next step automatically, Ardern stressed today. “At each stage, we will assess the impact of the previous stage before stepping down further.”
What about schools and businesses?
As Auckland will technically remain in level three, the wage subsidy will continue to be available for businesses during this phased transition.
As for schools: “Public health advice also sets out that schools at this stage will be able to return after school holidays on the 18th of October with the final decision to be made on that closer to the time,” said the prime minister. Masks indoors will be required for staff and students at secondary school level.
Is this the end of elimination?
In a word, yes. “The elimination strategy has served us very well and was the right thing to do for New Zealand,” said Ardern in a press conference announcing the roadmap this afternoon. “Elimination was important because we didn’t have vaccines. Now we do.
“This is a change in approach we were always going to make over time,” she added. “The delta outbreak has accelerated that transition, and vaccines will support it.”
Ardern said the question for cabinet and the director general of health and his team was: “How do we continue to keep everyone safe, while looking to find ways to make everyday life a little easier? How do we make the transition from tough restrictions at level three to a place where public health measures sit alongside vaccines and life feels a bit more normal again?
“In total, this phasing amounts to a careful and methodical transition plan for Auckland. At the end of these steps, we will then move to a national framework that reflects a more highly vaccinated population, allowing us the ability to deal with riskier settings such as large-scale events with the use of vaccine certificates.”
What about the rest of New Zealand?
The rest of the country will remain at alert level two “to continue to support Auckland to do the heavy lifting”, but the 100-limit cap on hospitality venues is removed. The requirement for customers to be seated and separated with physical distancing remains in place.
As for Waikato, at this stage it will remain in the OG level three until Friday night, as planned.