Auckland into level 3 lockdown, rest of country at level 2

The usually bustling Queen St in Auckland during alert level 3 in December. Photo: RNZ
The usually bustling Queen St in Auckland during alert level 3 in December. Photo: RNZ
Aucklanders have woken up back in lockdown after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern last night announced the region was going into level 3 for a full week after a person with Covid-19 visited public locations while symptomatic.

The new case, a 21-year-old man, attended the Manukau Institute of Technology for three days and went to the gym twice - including once after taking a Covid test - when he should have been isolating at home.

Auckland moved into lockdown at 6am today and the rest of the country has been moved to alert level 2 for seven days.

Major events have been disrupted - this morning's Round the Bays run in Auckland was called off, while the Black Caps' and White Ferns' T20 cricket double-header, scheduled for Eden Park on Friday, has been moved to Wellington where the games will be played without crowds. The racing schedule for the America's Cup - which was due to start on the Hauraki Gulf on Saturday - is being reviewed.

Ardern, with Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield, made the announcement of level changes at a hastily arranged press conference at 9pm on Saturday. It followed an urgent Cabinet meeting.

Ardern said the Government had no choice but to put Auckland back into lockdown after the new case was detected in the community.

Instead of following health advice, the person had been out in the community while infectious. This included attending the Manukau Institute of Technology for three days - February 22, 25 and 26.

The person is a household contact of a student from Papatoetoe High School who had returned three negative tests and was asymptomatic.

Ardern said there was "no doubt" that a contributing factor to the lockdown was that rules were not being followed.

The new community case should have been in isolation, she said. But after going to the GP to get a Covid-19 test, he ignored health advice and went to the gym.

He had also been to a number of other locations when he was symptomatic.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo: ODT files
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern: "Of course it's frustrating." Photo: Files
"Of course it's frustrating," Ardern said.

And she was leaving no room for interpretation when it comes to how clear officials made this to the new community case.

"I've seen the records of the multiple communications that went to members of the school community, advising them of what was required of students and household contacts."

The person visited:

• City Fitness, Papatoetoe (February 20, 26)
• Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) (February 22, 25, 26)
• Hunter Plaza (February 26)
• Burger King Highland Park (February 25)
• Your Health Pharmacy (February 23)
• Pak n Save Manukau (February 21)

Anyone who was at these locations is being advised to get tested.

Ardern sounded a warning to any would-be rule breakers. "We do have the ability to take enforcement action."

The action comes in the form of section 70 of the health order, which means a medical officer of health can oblige people to isolate.

But it was clear Ardern did not favour this heavy-handed approach.

"I don't want to create an environment where an individual who has made mistakes here, is so pilloried, that no one wants to be tested."

She urged everyone to "please follow the rules on behalf of everyone".

But National leader Judith Collins wants the Government to throw the book at people who ignore the rules.

"We need to consider tougher penalties against those who are not following public health advice around isolation and testing," she said.

Judith Collins. Photo: Getty Images
Judith Collins. Photo: Getty Images
She added that all New Zealanders would be frustrated at the level of non-compliance of the person at the centre of the new developments.

"Relying on people to do the right thing looks to have reached its limits and we may need tougher penalties to make sure everyone follows the rules.

"No one wants to be yo-yoing in and out lockdown."

Ardern said Cabinet considered a number of factors when looking at the new case and deciding if another lockdown was needed.

The exposure the new cases had with others worried Ardern the most.

"Because they have been infectious for as long as a week and had not been in isolation, there are a number of high-risk places involved in this case."

Given the time that has passed since the onset of their illness, Ardern said close contacts might already be infected.

The lockdown, Ardern said, would help prevent a large-scale spread.

It was Cabinet's "unfortunate, but necessary position of needing to protect Aucklanders once again".

As Auckland will be at level 3 for a week, any affected business can apply for the wage subsidy and the business support scheme.

Any business in the country that takes at least a 30 percent hit as a result of the lockdown can claim these subsidies.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said roughly $400-$500 million had been budgeted for these schemes.

Ardern said the seven-day lockdown was needed as it was the same amount of time the new case was infectious in the community.

She said it must be assumed that the strain of Covid-19 is the more infectious variant.

"The main thing we are asking people in Auckland to do is to stay at home."

This would reduce the risk of the virus spreading, she said.

When they can, people should work from home and children should stay home from school.

But, as was the case in previous lockdowns, supermarkets and pharmacies will remain open during level 3.

"Please, again, there is no need to rush to your supermarket."

Ardern said all sports or any other sorts of events need to be cancelled.

And the Auckland border will be reestablished – this will prevent anyone who does not have clearance from leaving the city.

Bloomfield last night also revealed that after testing the rest of the new community case's household contacts, the case's mother had tested positive for Covid-19.

When speaking to media last night, Ardern said some people may ask if Auckland should have remained at level 3 and not come out of lockdown.

But she said this was not the advice that the Government was given.

She pointed out that there had been 118,000 tests since February 14, when the first case of the new cluster was revealed.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said he understood Aucklanders' frustration at having to return to level 3 lockdown.

"However, the consequences of letting the virus spread would be far more disruptive and would put people's lives at risk.

"Aucklanders are old hands at this now. We know what to do to beat the virus and we will get on and do it."

Judith Collins on the lockdown

The new lockdown in Auckland and Level 2 for the rest of the country will be disappointing for all, National leader Judith Collins said.

"No one wants to be yo-yoing in and out lockdown.

"National said the decision to go out of Level 3 on February 17 was a bold and ambitious call.

"At the time we still didn't know the source of the original case, there were two new community cases of the more transmissible strain that day, and not all of the high school students had been tested.

"Now Auckland is back in lockdown with all the consequences that brings. We need to consider tougher penalties against those who are not following public health advice around isolation and testing.

"All New Zealanders will be frustrated at the level of non-compliance. Relying on people to do the right thing looks to have reached its limits and we may need tougher penalties to make sure everyone follows the rules.

 

 

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