Auckland will move to Level 2 at the end of the weekend and the rest of the country will remain there to permit inter-regional travel, Marc Daalder reports

Auckland will move to Level 2 at 11.59pm on Sunday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced.

As with the last time the country moved to Level 2, Auckland will be in a more limited version of the restrictions that have been in place for the rest of the country. That means gatherings in Auckland will be limited to 10 people, except for tangihanga and funerals which will have a cap of 50 people.

The rest of New Zealand will remain at Level 2 for the same period.

“Many will argue, that given we haven’t seen cases elsewhere, the rest of New Zealand should see a lift in current restrictions. I absolutely understand that sentiment. It makes sense,” Ardern said.

However, she said this was needed because the travel between Auckland and the rest of the country could risk spreading the virus in a Level 1 environment. The trade-off for the economic benefit of regional travel into and out of Auckland was that the rest of the country would have to keep restrictions in place.

The new settings will be in place at least until Sunday, September 6. They will be reviewed in the days before their scheduled expiry.

The other change to the restrictions is a legal requirement to wear masks on public transport at Level 2 and above. That will come into effect at the same time as Auckland moves to Level 2.

Ardern said the outbreak had been identified just 13 days ago and the response had been successful.

“In those almost two weeks, enormous effort has gone to rolling out our resurgence plan. You can see that in the scale of our response,” she said.

That response included nearly 200,000 Covid-19 tests in 13 days – more than a quarter of all tests conducted in New Zealand since the pandemic began. It also included surpassing contact tracing benchmarks set out by expert Dr Ayesha Verrall in her April audit of the contact tracing system.

Ardern said cases linked to the Auckland cluster would continue to appear “for some time to come”. The cluster is now New Zealand’s largest and previous clusters had taken months to wind down to zero cases.

She also said New Zealand would aspire to avoid escalating to Level 3 in fighting subsequent outbreaks. While New Zealand would continue to pursue elimination of Covid-19, it was important to seek out what measures beyond lockdowns could be used to do so.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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