The Prime Minister has announced a phased reopening for Auckland, but for now the country’s biggest city remains at Level 3 

At 11.59pm on Tuesday some restrictions will loosen for Auckland, but Level 3 remains in place.

For the rest of the country, Level 2 will remain but the 100-person limit on hospitality venues will be removed.

However, the requirement for customers to be seated and separated with physical distancing will continue.

Cabinet ministers met on Monday and signed off on a road map consisting of three steps for reopening Auckland.

From Wednesday, Aucklanders will be able to reconnect with family and friends outdoors, involving no more than two households at a time – up to a maximum of 10 people.

Early education will return across the board and Aucklanders will be able to move around for recreation, such as beach visits and hunting.

At step two, Jacinda Ardern says retail stores will be able to open their doors, providing the usual measures of face masks and physical distancing are kept in place.

Facilities including pools and zoos will be able to open and the number of people able to meet outside will increase to 25.

The third step will allow hospitality to open with a limit of 50 seated and separated people.

Close contact businesses like hairdressers will also be allowed to reopen with mask use and physical distancing, and gatherings will extend to 50 people.

“Cabinet will review each step weekly to ensure it’s safe to move before confirming the next step,’’ Ardern said.

The wage subsidy will also continue to be available and the regional border around Auckland continues to be in place.

Based on public health advice Ardern expects children and teenagers to return to school after the holidays finish on October 18, but a final decision will be made closer to the time.

Ardern said vaccination is key to safely lifting restrictions in the future.

“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,’’ Ardern said.

The outdoors element of the phased reopening is critical, with Ardern saying ventilation was key to reconnecting with loved ones and it was important people “keep it outdoors’’.

Ardern said a return to zero Covid cases has been “incredibly difficult and the restrictions alone are not enough to achieve this’’.

While restrictions haven’t achieved elimination, she said that was okay because vaccination rates were increasing.

“Elimination was important when we didn’t have vaccines, that has changed.’’

Covid community case numbers

There were 29 Covid community cases announced on Monday, and the virus has now spread into parts of Waikato.

Some of the Waikato region joined Auckland at Level 3 at 11.59pm on Sunday night after Delta cases were found in both Raglan and Hamilton.

The increased restrictions are in place initially for five days, through until midnight on Friday, and will be reviewed again by Cabinet later in the week.

The new restrictions in Waikato effectively split the region with the city of Hamilton and towns of Raglan, Te Kauwhata, Ngāruawāhia and Huntly all moved into Level 3.

Of Monday’s 29 cases, investigations into the source are continuing for eight, while the other 21 have been linked to the Auckland cluster.

Nineteen of yesterday’s 33 cases had exposure events in the community and those in Auckland and Waikato are encouraged to continue to monitor new locations of interest.

There are five people currently admitted to intensive care in hospital and a further 25 are in general wards across North Shore, Middlemore, Auckland and Waikato hospitals.

The Ministry of Health has also provided an update on the North Shore Hospital maternity ward case.

“Late yesterday a nominated visitor to North Shore Hospital’s maternity ward tested positive for Covid-19. The baby and the baby’s mother were subsequently tested and the baby has returned a positive result, while the mother was negative,” the Ministry said.

The mother and baby have been in their own room for the duration of their care and have now been moved to an appropriate Covid-19 ward.

“A small number of staff who have potentially interacted with the visitor have been stood down as a precautionary measure while investigations continue,” the ministry said.

A separate case at Auckland City Hospital on Sunday resulted from a person being admitted to intensive care for non-Covid reasons who subsequently tested positive for the virus.

The case was well-contained and protocols were followed so the advice from health officials is that patients and visitors to the hospital and emergency department don’t need to take any action unless contacted directly.

Regarding the Raglan positive case, three household contacts tested positive overnight and have been moved to an Auckland quarantine facility. These cases haven’t been recorded in Monday’s numbers but will be part of Tuesday’s official count.

Initial tests from all four contacts associated with worksites of an Auckland-based truck driver, who is isolating in Palmerston North, have returned initial negative test results.

Testing has been high in the Waikato with 600 swabs taken across testing centres on Sunday – roughly 150 swabs were taken at the pop-up testing site in Raglan.

Vaccinations continue to be carried out across the country and as of Monday the country has passed the two million mark for second doses of Pfizer.

That represents 48 percent of people aged 12 and over now being fully vaccinated, Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins said.

More broadly, 79 percent of people aged 12 and over have had at least one dose.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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