NZ extends Auckland level 3 lockdown until Sunday – 8 new cluster cases

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ... "It's a finely balanced decision, but the right one, I believe." Image: Dom Thomas/RNZ

By RNZ News

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced that New Zealand’s covid-19 restrictions will continue at their current level until at least 11.59pm on Sunday night.

Masks will also be mandatory from Monday when using public transport at level 2 and above.

Announcing Cabinet’s decision at 3pm after a meeting today, Ardern said the rest of the country would remain at level 2.

The current restrictions – Auckland at alert level 3, and the rest of the country at level 2 – had been due to lift at midnight Wednesday and ministers met this afternoon to review whether community transmission has been contained.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield briefed Cabinet on cases, trends, progress finding the index case, the spread of the virus and whether there were any cases still not linked to the Auckland cluster.

Aucklanders have been divided on the matter, but the city’s mayor and businesses supported an ease of restrictions.

Ardern said keeping New Zealand at level 2 was important because of regional travel – many people would want to enter and leave Auckland once it moved into level 2.

Decision comes with risk
This comes with risk, Ardern said, with Cabinet “constantly keeping in mind the cost to business, the cost to the Auckland economy”.

“It’s a finely balanced decision, but the right one, I believe.”

Today’s New Zealand covid media briefing. Video: RNZ News

The wage subsidy two-week extension will be kept as is.

She said Cabinet considered moving the rest of the country to level 1 but it would be hard to police Aucklanders going across the country to attend mass gatherings.

Exponential growth in the cluster or cases that were not able to be linked to the cluster would mean things would change, she said.

She said the government was sticking with its “stamp it out” strategy, and acknowledged many would have found it harder this time.

Choice about action
“We may not have any choice about whether or not the world is in a global pandemic but we do have choices about how we deal with it.”

The limits on mass gatherings to 10 and tangihanga and funerals to 50 were only for Auckland, she said. The rest of the country would have the usual level 2 gathering limits.

The wage subsidy two-week extension would be kept as is. Adding days to the wage subsidy was not a simple exercise, Ardern said, and keeping it as is allowed the money to keep flowing out to people fast.

Ardern said people needed to check the list of exemptions for travel through Auckland before applying for one, so they did not clog the process for others. She said some people whose reasons for exemption were already on the list were requesting them when they did not need to.

Masks to be mandatory on public transport
Ardern had also announced Cabinet’s decision to make masks mandatory on public transport. She said it would apply at level 2 and above, and would come into effect from Monday.

Children would not be required to wear masks, but an exact age was being worked on. Taxis and rideshare services like Uber were included in the rule.

“We continue to ask everyone on public transport or planes to wear a mask,” she said. “They limit the chance for covid-19, when it is often harder to distance yourself and trace people.”

She was not worried about the availability of masks but encouraged people to explore buying alternatives to single-use masks if they could afford to, or to fashion a mask from things found at home.

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Face masks will be mandatory. Video: RNZ News

She says it was a face covering, and not the type of mask being policed. Advice on different types of face coverings would be available online.

“This is a commonsense approach to protect everyone’s health.”

She did not want to see the public people policing other’s use of masks but if someone were to offer another person a mask then that would be a kind thing to do, she said.

She said the government continued to encourage the use of masks between now and Monday

Cabinet was very, very clear on mask use and it was not concerned about people’s response to this as New Zealanders were very pragmatic, Ardern said.

Two weeks since new community cases
Beginning her post-Cabinet briefing, Ardern said tomorrow marked 14 days since the reemergence of covid-19 outside of quarantine facilities.

Cases have emerged over the past 13 days of cases that occured before Auckland went into level 3, she said, and if it were not for level three, the cluster would be much larger.

She said more than a quarter of the testing done across the country had been done in the past 13 days.

The next several weeks would see more cases, she said, but also thousands of tests and a team in full force to stamp out covid in New Zealand.

New Zealand knew how to bounce back, she said.

“We are strong, we have been kind and we are doing really well.”

Ardern said the whole world had been learning and New Zealand had been improving and learning throughout the pandemic.

Pasifika testing high
From Friday’s data, testing among the Pasifika community was high, she said. Pasifika represented about 20 percent of the testing, well over the percentage of Pasifika represented in the community.

“Without those members of our community being willing to be testing, lives would have been lost – particularly to our Pasifika community … I want to say thank you.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said tht while the Auckland cluster was contained it was our biggest one.

She said that meant the tail would be long, and the cases would keep coming for a while to come.

Today there were eight new cases of covid-19 in the community, plus a case which arrived from overseas into managed isolation.

This article is republished by the Pacific Media Centre under a partnership agreement with RNZ.

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