Aucklanders will learn tomorrow whether tougher alert level restrictions will stay put, or if they will have more freedom to gather, but a public health expert is urging officials to keep the city at current alert levels for now.
Compared to the rest of the country's alert level 2 status, Auckland has been at a tailor-made 'alert level 2.5' since 31 August, as a step down from level 3 restrictions. It limits the amount of people allowed at gatherings to no more than 10, while outside of Auckland gatherings of up to 100 are allowed.
Cabinet will meet tomorrow to discuss whether to change the current levels. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said if a change is made it will take effect from 11.59pm on Wednesday 16 September.
The strict controls on Aucklanders are an attempt to try to slow a community outbreak of Covid-19 that has now infected 176 people. Two new cases of Covid-19 were announced today, one is an isolated international arrival, and the other is a health worker at the Jet Park quarantine facility where infected members of the Auckland cluster are being cared for.
University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker says it's too soon to drop alert levels next week, given new cases are rolling in each day. He wants Auckland kept at level 2.5 for at least another two weeks.
However, he believed it may be safe for the rest of New Zealand to potentially move down in restrictions to an alert level 1.5, but said freeing Auckland up soon would be a mistake.
University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker Photo: University of Otago, Wellington / Luke Pilkinton-Ching?
The latest outbreak in Auckland was still relatively new compared to the first outbreak of the virus in March, Baker said.
"Remembering the first took three months from the first case, to really saying we've got rid of the virus entirely.
"We've only had this outbreak for a month, so I think on this downward elimination stage we just need to be very patient."
Keeping Auckland at 2.5 would allow more time for potential undiscovered cases to be identified, Baker said.
Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett believes the city should be at a maximum of alert level 2 and the rest of the country should move to alert level 1, so businesses can run more smoothly.
He says there are ways to operate successfully and safely.
"It would be good to see some of the fear taken out I think in air travel and buses. I think if people are wearing masks we don't have to have empty seats sitting next door to them, so those are some practical things that would be good to see make a difference for travel."
Barnett said the government had been thoughtful right through the Covid crisis, but there had not been enough messaging for the business sector.
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