Auckland lockdown to ease despite new Covid cases

Finance minister says ‘we are nearly there’ but urges residents to get tested if they display symptoms

Auckland is on track to move out of level 3 lockdown on Sunday despite new cases of Covid-19.

New Zealand’s largest city has been in level 3 for more than two weeks and on Friday the finance minister, Grant Robertson, said that at midnight on Sunday Auckland would move to level 2.

Level 3 requires most people to stay at home unless shopping or if they are essential workers; while level 2 allows people to return to work, school and jobs, as well as eating and drinking out.

Robertson said the city’s 1.7 million residents must remain vigilant and “get tested” over the weekend if displaying symptoms.

On Friday five new cases of Covid were confirmed, all related to the south Auckland outbreak and four from the same family. An additional seven imported cases were in quarantine after arriving in New Zealand on an Air India flight.

The Auckland outbreak is New Zealand’s largest cluster with 123 cases. The Pasifika community has been disproportionately affected and Robertson thanked south Auckland churches for hosting pop-up testing centres.

As of Friday there were 11 people with Covid-19 in hospital, three of them in intensive care.

Robertson urged Aucklanders to stay the course with two days left before restrictions would be eased. Local people have said they have found the second lockdown “much tougher” than the first.

“As a result of your actions New Zealand remains in a comparatively positive position to other countries who have experienced second-wave outbreaks, with a small number of daily cases, no additional cases and no spread of the virus beyond the cluster, so thank you,” Robertson said.

“We are nearly there but the job is not quite done.”

When lockdown ends at midnight on Sunday restrictions will continue to apply to social gatherings, with gatherings like church services and birthdays limited to 10, while funeral and tangi will be limited to 50.

Mask-wearing would become compulsory on public transport, Robertson said, at midnight on Sunday. The requirement would apply nationwide.

Some epidemiologists have expressed concern at the easing of restrictions but the government has insisted it is safe to open up, as contact tracing has been successful and the outbreak has been restricted to a single cluster.

“I’m worried about what it means for us moving out of level 3 on Sunday here in Auckland,” said Siouxsie Wiles, a microbiologist and expert on infectious diseases at the University of Auckland, saying it could lead to “transmission happening that would have hopefully been slowed or stopped at level 3”.

Meanwhile it emerged that the US ambassador, Scott Brown, had bypassed hotel quarantine when returning to New Zealand and instead self-isolated in his Wellington home. Brown has diplomatic immunity meaning the government could not force him to enter the mandatory facilities. Brown said he and his wife tested negative for the virus before leaving the US.

“We have been very careful about wearing masks and observing social distancing guidelines during transit. We were successfully screened by health authorities on arrival in Auckland and again in Wellington,” he told Stuff.


Eleanor Ainge Roy in Queenstown

The GuardianTramp

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