Auckland will move out of lockdown and drop to level 2 from Sunday. The rest of the country will move to level one.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the alert-level changes after five days of zero cases of community transmission.
Auckland will move to level 2 at 6am Sunday and is likely to remain there for a week when Cabinet will review whether to move to level 1 at the start of the following weekend.
There had been no new cases for five days in a row which was “good news”, Ardern said.
“It is still not business as usual,” the PM added, urging people to keep social distancing.
The restriction of 100 people wouldstill be applied to church services in Auckland at level 2 on Sunday morning, Ardern said.
“An elimination strategy can still feel like hard work… thank you for pushing through,” Ardern said.
Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said as the country moved down alert levels, some people would have to stay in isolation.
Bloomfield said under a new Section 70 order, any person who attended City Fitness Hunters Plaza on February 20 between 11.15am and 1.45pm, or February 26 between 3.25pm and 4.30pm, as well as anyone who is a close, close-plus or casual contacts was required to:
* Isolate at your usual home;
* Report for testing at a specified time;
* Accept testing and isolate until you are told officially that you no longer need to.
Ardern said there were still 10 people who the Ministry of Health did not have results from the original City Fitness location of interest.
Eight of these people had had a test. Two haven’t – but those are from the visit on February20 – this was before the person with Covid became symptomatic.
Ardern said they are still trying hard to find the two people from the February 20 gym visit.
Bloomfield says he is “confident” people will do what they are asked, despite the powers to comply of a medical officer of health under section 70 notice of the health act.
Ardern says most of the level restrictions requirements are “very well understood” by the population.
Ardern says she “does not believe” people have intentionally broken isolation restrictions in relation to this latest lockdown.
“The most important principles for our Covid management have been sticking together and not turning on each other,” Ardern said.
Bloomfield says the South Auckland community has shown great leadership in the Valentines Day cluster, and those who broke isolation requirements did not do so intentionally.
The Ministry of Health said there was still a strong demand for testing with more than 11,500 tests processed yesterday. Results from wastewater testing at three Auckland sites – including Papatoetoe – on Wednesday have all come back negative.
Bloomfield said today that about 6000 people connected to the latest cluster had been contacted, with many of them followed up on a daily basis.
He said all outstanding Papatoetoe contacts had returned a negative test. “It is possible we may still get positive results from people who remain in isolation and are still to get a day 12 tests. It’s important to note that these people are in isolation,” he said.
Ardern says she spoke to French president Emmanuel Macron this morning, and the Covid-19 response came up.
“Covid has taken a toll on so many in so many ways but it will get better,” Ardern said.
She indicated she would lay out the Government’s plan for the Covid response for the rest of 2021, in the coming weeks.
Ardren said they were treating more people as close contacts in this latest cluster due to the more infectious UK strain.
More than 50,000 tests have been taken, mostly in Auckland, in relation to this last Valentines Day cluster.
Cabinet met at 2pm after the Ministry of Health revealed for the fifth day in a row there were no new cases of Covid-19 in the community.
There were also no new cases in managed isolation facilities today.
The alert levels have been in place since 6am on Sunday and were scheduled to last for seven days.
Mayor's message to Aucklanders over lockdown lifting
Phil Goff says the government’s decision to move Auckland to Level 2 from 6am on Sunday will be welcome news.
“Moving strongly and quickly to contain this outbreak has once again proved effective in stopping the spread of community transmission and I thank all the Aucklanders who have followed the rules of Level 3 over the past week,” the Auckland Mayor said.
“This cooperation has helped to ensure that the initial cases detected in the community have not spread any further, meaning that we can now step down alert levels and return to a more normal level of activity.
“This is encouraging news and with the vaccine roll-out now underway there is a lot to be hopeful for. Given this is Auckland’s fourth lockdown, the vaccination of Aucklanders needs to be prioritized over areas less impacted by the virus and I will continue to advocate to government for this,” he said.
Covid-19 modeller Professor Shaun Hendy said Auckland’s move to alert level 2 made sense, given the string of negative test results we have seen this week.
“We can have a good deal of confidence that this cluster is well contained,” he said.
“This does not mean that there is no risk of further cases and these could still spark a larger outbreak if not detected early.”
With the 14-day incubation period, there was still a risk that people who were exposed last week could develop Covid-19 – even if they tested negative this week.
“It will be important that people are vigilant around the country, avoiding school, work, or social gatherings if they develop any symptoms,” Hendy said.
“This is particularly important for any Aucklanders who travel out of the region in the days after Sunday – they can help reduce the risks by continuing to behave as if they were in alert level 2.
“A large B.1.1.7 cluster would be very hard to contain, so we all need to do our bit to ensure that we catch any further cases swiftly.”
Retailers are rejoicing at news of the alert level downgrade from 6am Sunday.
Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford said:”Retailers throughout the country will be really pleased that COVID-19 Alert Levels are moving.
“Retailer confidence has slumped since mid-February, and although the sector has proven to be very resilient over the past year, each lockdown gets harder for businesses to manage. It is good news that we are now moving back down the Alert Levels, and retailers will be hoping that we can get back to Level 1 quickly and stay there.”
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