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Aucklanders excited but cautious about move to alert level 1

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The announcement that Auckland will be moving to alert level 1 this week is being celebrated by businesses and the hospitality sector.

The usually bustling Queen Street in Auckland during level 3 lockdown.

Queen Street in Auckland.
Photo: RNZ / Amy Williams

But an epidemiologist and some Auckland residents are only cautiously welcoming the news.

Cabinet made the call to move Auckland – the country’s largest city and the site of its largest Covid-19 cluster – to alert level 1 at 11.59pm on Wednesday night.

The move means passengers on public transport will no longer be required to wear masks and limits on gatherings are lifted.

Epidemiologist Michael Baker – who earlier called for a level 1.5 – said returning to level 1 missed an opportunity to mandate the wearing of masks on public transport.

He said it had been difficult to make wearing masks a normal habit for many New Zealanders.

“Internationally, mask use is really emerging as a key way of managing and reducing the risk of transmission of this virus,” he said.

“We haven’t really established this properly in New Zealand.”

Aucklanders that RNZ spoke to in the CBD have welcomed the shift, but they were cautious about dropping down alert levels.

One man, who did not want to be named, thought masks should still be compulsory on public transport and airplanes.

“I think it is a discipline that needs to be there all the time, because clearly community transmission is coming back. There will be more outbreaks,” he said.

One woman, who also wished to be anonymous, said it was inevitable that the call would be made, with people already acting like it was alert level 1.

Auckland's deserted viaduct area during the Covid-19 alert level four lockdown.

Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Meanwhile, hospitality joint owners are jumping for joy after the announcement.

Olivia Carter from the Soul Bar and Bistro in the Auckland Viaduct said the news was so exciting it had her heart racing.

“We really need to be in alert level 1. Our business couldn’t survive on being less than that. We’re excited and looking forward to what this week will now bring.”

Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett said the move is a huge relief for businesses doing it tough.

He is hoping people return to central Auckland to work in the office.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the second lockdown was challenging.

“I know for many this one has felt harder, especially for Aucklanders.”

But she said all signs point to the cluster being under control.

She urged people to remain vigilant and avoid being complacent around scanning QR codes.

“Resurgence of the virus is not our only worry. Resurgence of complacency is right up there too.”

New Zealand clocked a 102-day streak of no community transmission when four new cases emerged in the community in Auckland.

The region was abruptly thrust into alert level 3 on 12 August and the rest of the country was bumped up to level 2.

The rest of the country went to alert level 1 on 22 September.

The origin of the August cluster – which ballooned to New Zealand’s largest with 179 cases – is still unknown.

It had been nine days since the last reported community case.

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