New Zealand to extend current lockdown Alert Levels until Sunday evening

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The Prime Minister has revealed that Auckland will stay in lockdown until 11:59pm on Sunday and the city and the rest of New Zealand will remain at alert level 2 after that.

The current schedule was for level 3 in Auckland and level 2 for the rest of the country until 11.59pm on Wednesday.

The extra four days would allow Auckland to move down a level "and stay down", Jacinda Ardern said.

She said a phased move to level 2 would also happen.

Mass gatherings will be restricted to 10 people at level 2, and a 50-person limit would be in place for funerals and tangi.

The rest of the country will be at level 2.

Auckland will be at a tighter level 2 from Monday.

She said many people will want to enter and leave Auckland after Sunday, but the movement will be risky.

Masks mandatory on public transport

She said everyone will be required to wear masks on public transport for level 2 and above, and this will come into force on Monday.

"We know masks protect you."

Public transport meant it was harder to protect yourself and harder to track close contacts.

She said Aucklanders should continue to wear masks when outside of their homes.

She said everyone taking public transport needed to take responsibility for wearing a face mask.

Director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said his advice was that it was a "line-call" about mandating face coverings at level 2.

Ardern clarified that face coverings will be mandated at level 2 and above, including at level 2.

Bloomfield said there are exemptions might be given if there was a medical reason for it, and further advice was being sought about masks for children.

Who would be liable if the rules are broken was also still being worked through, Ardern said.

"Generally this is falling on the individual to make sure they are complying."

How long at alert level 2?

The alert level restrictions next week - level 2 around the country, including Auckland - will be in place for a week and be reviewed on September 6.

People will not be allowed to board a bus without a face covering at higher than level 2, she said.

She said Cabinet considered moving the rest of the country to level 1, but it would have been very difficult to enforce Aucklanders from travelling around the country and attending large gatherings beyond the level 2 restrictions.

Having a regional boundary around Auckland where police ask everyone leaving if they are going to an event was "just not workable".

People ineligible for the eight-week extension for the wage subsidy will be able to use the coming week for their eligibility, she said.

Auckland Mayor disappointed

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said he is disappointed that Alert Level 3 is being extended for four days, but he believes Aucklanders will understand why the decision has been made.

"This will be difficult for people whose jobs and businesses are most affected by Level 3 restrictions. However, the advice given by medical experts is clear; if we ease up on restrictions too early, we risk a further resurgence and losing the benefits we gained from ensuring the virus is contained," Goff said.

Ardern backs elimination plan

Ardern stood by the elimination strategy as being the best for the long-term benefit of New Zealand.

Heavy restriction didn't have to be used every time a case emerged, she added.

"There is no denying that the price Aucklanders are currently paying are the greatest. We know it's been tough. I know there are many who've found it harder this time."

Covid-19 is now the world's reality and that reality was "hard to accept".

Keeping as much normality as possible was the aim despite the grip of the global pandemic.

The next seven days will see thousands of tests and Ardern hoped that people will continue to play their part by washing their hands, staying home if sick, and using the Covid Tracer app.

"If anyone country knows how to bounce back, it is up. If it feels hard right now, that's because it is."

"2020 has frankly been terrible. But we've been strong, we've been kind and we're doing really well."

Asked about not mandating the use of masks earlier, she said lessons had been learned as more information about Covid-19 came to light, and the Government moved with new evidence.

She said exponential growth outside of the cluster and cases unconnected to the link could jeopardise moving to level 2 next week.

"Because this is a larger outbreak than usual, we will see a bigger tail than usual."

The source of the cluster was still being sought, and was still unknown despite testing at the border and genomic sequencing.

At the end of last week, about 20 per cent of overall testing was of Pacific people.

"That has been fantastic," Ardern said.

Targeted testing over the coming week will continue in South and West Auckland, including in supermarkets.

Asked about what responsibility the Government took for the outbreak, she said the work was continuing into trying to find the source.

She said the tail of the cluster will be long and cases will "keep coming" for a while to come.

"But we can manage that."

"If it weren't for level 3 this cluster would be exponential, of that I have no doubt."

The perimeter of the cluster needed to be understood and defined, she said, and that confidence can be built over the course of this week.

Cabinet met today and took into account the advice of Bloomfield.

The factors Cabinet has considered include the number of new cases, the types of cases including those unconnected to the current cluster, the capacity of the contact-tracing regime and the health system, economic impacts and the levels of public compliance.

Ardern said enormous effort had gone into the past two weeks, with 100,000 tests in Auckland and 194,000 tests in total.

Contact-tracing's gold standard had been reached - 80 per cent of close contacts isolated within 48 hours of a positive test result since August 12.

They've used "whatever it takes" to establish people's movements.

Cases had emerged from before level 3 came into force, she said, including on bus journeys between strangers, in churches, in a retail shop.

Today there were new cases - eight confirmed and one probable - including eight connected to the South Auckland cluster and one in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ).

That brings the number of cases in the cluster to 101 - now New Zealand's biggest - the number of cases still under investigation to three, and with 19 cases in MIQ, the total number of active cases to 123.

Bloomfield said today finding the perimeter of the outbreak was important and testing this week would concentrate on Pacific communities in South and West Auckland.

One of the three cases still under investigation had been asymptomatic, and all indications were it was an old case. They had arrived in country in June and hadn't tested positive during their stay in MIQ,

One had symptoms and went to the North Short ED on Friday night, and the third case is the Rydges maintenance worker.

He said avoiding level 3 or 4 in response to future outbreaks should be manageable.

"Now that we know our testing can ramp up quickly, we know our contact-tracing is effective, we've got much wider use of the NZ Covid Tracer app, there's a range of other measures being put in place.

"When we do get another case - it's likely to happen again - we should be able to manage it within an alert level 1 or 2 setting. And that is exactly the aim."

He said elimination was still the strategy,

"We want to quickly stamp out any outbreaks. The aim would be to be able to do that no higher than a level 2 setting."

Yesterday there were 4589 tests. Sundays usually have lower traffic to testing stations.

There are 10 people in hospital, including two in ICU in Middlemore.

Of 2300 close contacts identified, 2249 have been contacted.

New Zealand had a string of lower daily case numbers the last time we moved from level 3 to 2, which was in May, but tools such as contact tracing and genome sequencing have greatly improved since then.

Public health experts are urging caution about moving Auckland down to level 2 from Thursday but businesses say it's imperative if they are to survive and save jobs.

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Rules for Alert Levels:

Alert Level 4 — Lockdown

Likely that the disease is not contained and community transmission is occurring.

• Range of measures that can be applied locally or nationally

• People instructed to stay at home in their bubble other than for essential personal movement.

• Safe recreational activity is allowed in the local area.

• Travel is severely limited.

• All gatherings cancelled and all public venues closed.

• Businesses closed except for essential services, such as supermarkets, pharmacies, clinics, petrol stations and lifeline utilities.

• Educational facilities closed.

• Rationing of supplies and requisitioning of facilities possible.

• Reprioritisation of healthcare services.

Alert Level 3 — Restrict

Community transmission might be happening.

• Range of measures that can be applied locally or nationally.

• People instructed to stay home in their bubble other than for essential personal movement — including to go to work, school if they have to or for local recreation.

• Physical distancing of 2 metres outside home including on public transport, or 1 metre in controlled environments like schools and workplaces.

• Bubbles must stay within their immediate household bubble but can expand this to reconnect with close family/whānau, or bring in caregivers or support isolated people. This extended bubble should remain exclusive.

• Schools between years 1 to 10 and Early Childhood Education centres can safely open but will have limited capacity. Children should learn at home if possible.

• People must work from home unless that is not possible.

• Businesses can open premises, but cannot physically interact with customers.

• Low-risk local recreation activities are allowed.

• Public venues are closed. This includes libraries, museums, cinemas, food courts, gyms, pools, playgrounds, markets.

• Gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed but only for wedding services, funerals and tangihanga. Physical distancing and public health measures must be maintained.

• Healthcare services use virtual, non-contact consultations where possible.

• Inter-regional travel is highly limited to, for example, essential workers, with limited exemptions for others.

• People at high risk of severe illness such as older people and those with existing medical conditions are encouraged to stay at home where possible, and take additional precautions when leaving home. They may choose to work.

Alert Level 2 — Reduce

The disease is contained, but the risk of community transmission remains. Risk assessment. Household transmission could be occurring. Single or isolated cluster outbreaks.

• People can reconnect with friends and family, and socialise in groups of up to 100, go shopping or travel domestically if following public health guidance.

• Keep physical distancing of 2 metres from people you don't know when out in public or in retail stores. Keep 1 metre physical distancing in controlled environments like workplaces, where practical.

• No more than 100 people at gatherings, including weddings, birthdays, funerals and tangihanga.

• Businesses can open to the public if following public health guidance including physical distancing and record keeping. Alternative ways of working are encouraged where possible.

• Hospitality businesses must keep groups of customers separated, seated and served by a single person.

• Maximum of 100 people at a time in a defined space.

• Sport and recreation activities are allowed, subject to conditions on gatherings, record keeping, and physical distancing where practical.

• Public venues such as museums, libraries and pools can open if they comply with public health measures and ensure 1 metre physical distancing and record keeping.

• Event facilities, including cinemas, stadiums, concert venues and casinos can have more than 100 people at a time, provided there are no more than 100 in a defined space, and the groups do not mix.

• Health and disability care services operate as normally as possible.

• It is safe to send your children to schools, early learning services and tertiary education. There will be appropriate measures in place.

• People at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, for example those with underlying medical conditions, especially if not well-controlled, and older people, are encouraged to take additional precautions when leaving home. They may work if they agree with their employer that they can do so safely.

Alert Level 1 — Prepare

The disease is contained in New Zealand. COVID-19 is uncontrolled overseas.

• Isolated household transmission could be occurring in New Zealand.

• Range of measures that can be applied locally or nationally

• Border entry measures to minimise risk of importing COVID-19 cases.

• Intensive testing for COVID-19.

• Rapid contact tracing of any positive case.

• Self-isolation and quarantine required.

• Schools and workplaces open, and must operate safely.

• No restrictions on personal movement but people are encouraged to maintain a record of where they have been.

• No restrictions on gatherings but organisers encouraged to maintain records to enable contact tracing.

• Stay home if you're sick, report flu-like symptoms.

• Wash and dry your hands, cough into your elbow, don't touch your face.

• No restrictions on domestic transport — avoid public transport or travel if you're sick.

• No restrictions on workplaces or services but they are encouraged to maintain records to enable contact tracing.

 This article was first published on the NZ Herald and is republished here with permission.