14 Sep 2020

Covid-19: Ready or too soon? Aucklanders divided on moving levels

7:16 am on 14 September 2020

Some Aucklanders say political pressure from the impending election is forcing the government to lower the alert level for the city when it isn't quite ready.

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

A man wearing a mask on Auckland's Queen St. Photo: RNZ / Amy Williams

Cabinet will meet this morning to discuss alert levels with an announcement about any changes this afternoon.

Auckland stepped down from lockdown alert level 3 to the tailor-made 'alert level 2.5' on 31 August, while the rest of the country remains at level 2.

For Auckland that means social gatherings are restricted to just 10 people - with 50 allowed for funerals and tangihanga - while 100 are allowed in the rest of the country.

New mother Courtney Bennett, who lives in Takapuna on Auckland's North Shore, said the second lockdown has been much harder than the first - affecting her mental health.

"I think it definitely took a toll on me mentally and there were days when I felt a little bit down.

"But then ... as a result of lockdown, everyone is at home. So I have all of my family at home as well.

"So the flip side of that is that there was a lot more support around - so there's obviously pros and cons."

She said family and friends who own businesses are really struggling, but moving to a lower alert level makes her nervous because she sees so few people heeding the public health message to mask up when out and about.

"I'd like to see masks compulsory just anywhere you can't social distance.

"Places like shopping malls, definitely supermarkets ... and even just out and about on busy streets and that sort of thing."

Person wearing protective mask against transmissible infectious diseases and as protection against pollution and the flu. Asian woman commuter in airport public area.

An Auckland mum would like to see much wider use of masks in the city. Photo: 123RF

Avondale union organiser Fala Haulangi said workers in the city are doing it tough.

"We are really concerned that there are some workers whose hours have been reduced or some workers have been laid off because there's no job there anymore."

But she worries about the city dropping down the alert levels while there are still cases of community transmission being uncovered.

"If we continue to have the tail of the cluster I would rather that we continue to stay on 2.5."

Need for Bluetooth

In Remuera, teacher and mother Hannah Armstrong said she is disappointed there is still no Bluetooth technology to track close contacts.

She said without it any further outbreaks - which are inevitable - will almost certainly spiral out of control.

"Certainly the app is not sufficient for tracking everybody.

"I know [the government] said on the radio last week that [app use] had doubled since the week before ... but it was like it [had had] 2 million users that day.

"Well, that's not very high for the amount of people that we have in the country - that doesn't leave me with much comfort."

Overstayers a concern

Pakilau Manase Lua is the chairman of the Pacific Leadership Forum's Pacific Response Coordination Team.

He said there are thousands of overstayers in Auckland too scared to get a Covid-19 test because they fear deportation.

He said the government has to do more to reassure them so they can be tracked and traced - and changing alert level before they've done this would be foolhardy.

"We're still finding new cases, you've got an entire population [of overstayers] ... that you can't track and trace.

"So I'm a bit sceptical because I think ... people's lives should be the first priority as opposed to the economy - we can always pump the economy back up."

Meanwhile, the chair of the Te Puea Marae in South Auckland, Hurimoana Dennis, said by and large people are sticking to the physical distancing rules and he is optimistic the city is ready to be given greater freedom.

"[And if we] just follow the rules and so on and so forth then yeah, I think we're ready. We are pretty disciplined."

The predictions

So what do Aucklanders think the government will decide about dropping down alert levels?

Fala Haulangi: "I have a feeling we might go to level 2."

Courtney Bennett: "I think we will drop down a level but I think it's very much to do with the election. I wonder if it wasn't an election year if we would."

Hannah Armstrong: "With the elections coming up too I feel like that puts a lot of pressure on them to keep everybody happy, so I feel like it will probably drop to 2."

Pakilau Manase Lua: "I think we will. I think there's economic pressure. It is voting, you know, it is campaign times, the government want to look like they are pro-business."

The levels announcement is at 1pm with any changes expected to come into effect at one minute to midnight on Wednesday.

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