21 Sep 2020

Cabinet agrees to move Auckland to level 2 and rest of New Zealand to level 1

3:38 pm on 21 September 2020

Auckland is to move to level 2, with eased restrictions on gatherings, at 11.59pm on Wednesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

The rest of the country will be in alert level 1 from midnight tonight.

Missed the announcement? Watch back here:

Cabinet reviewed the alert levels today. There were no new cases of Covid-19 in the country today, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said.

"This run of effectively seven days without any additional cases as part of this Auckland outbreak gave us a sense that it was safe to move to an upper gathering limit consistent with the usual alert level 2 arrangements."

Auckland's level 2 status will means that gatherings of 100 will be permitted.

That level will be in place for 14 days, with Cabinet set to review those settings again on 5 October.

"If we remain on track it would then be our intention to consider moving alert levels from 7 October, again this is all conditional on us continuing as we are now," Ardern said.

"What we are trying to signal with some certainty is, if we continue on this path, it's likely in two weeks time we will have that added confidence that that time and extra cycle of transmission will give us, and then we may be in a position to lift once more."

In order for Auckland to move to level 1, it would require the city to maintain its current downward trajectory of cases with no surprised, she said.

"Essentially Auckland needs more time. Whilst we have reasonable confidence that we are on the right track there is still a need in Auckland for that cautious approach, this was the center of the outbreak and that is why that caution is required here.

"However, our view is that, when it comes to the rest of the country, given that we have not seen that regional spread we have enough confidence to lift those restrictions outside of Auckland."

She made a plea to those outside Auckand at alert level 1: "Don't assume that your symptoms are nothing, it is very helpful to us, please if you are unwell and you have those cold or flu like symptoms to still get a test. That helps us maintain that level of confidence that we have contained things.

"The second point I would make is we will be vigilant too, we have large scale events that are scheduled for the rest of the month outside of Auckland, I've asked MBIE to go through what those indoor events are, proactively reach out to those organisers, make sure they are using the Covid tracer app, that they have good details kept of those in attendance and where they are seated, so there is a code of conduct in place that we will be asking those large scale event organisers to be abiding by as well."

Jacinda Ardern gives an update on the Covid-19 Alert Levels for the country on 21 September in Auckland.

Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

Analysis completed by the Ministry of Health suggests that by the end of this month there is still a 50-50 chance of New Zealand having eliminated Covid again, Ardern said.

"That's cause for us not to get ahead of ourselves and to remain vigilant. For this reason, we need people in Auckland to continue to stay home when they are sick and get a test even if it is just a sniffle or a cough. Scan or keep a record of where you are and where you've been ... continue to wear face coverings [on public transport]."

For all planes going through, to or from Auckland, face masks will be required since the city is still under level 2.

Although regardless of the alert level or destination, Ardern says it is still encouraged for passengers on planes to wear masks for safety.

Asked by reporters about a photo of her standing close to a group of people while taking a picture, she said: "Look on that particular photo I did make a mistake, I should've stepped further forward, I should have asked them to step apart from each other and I acknowledge that."

Ardern says she will work on making sure people keep their distance in the future when taking photos with her.

Ardern confirms plan to secure Covid-19 vaccine purchase

Ardern says one of the major factors that will affect border control measures in place would be a vaccine.

"As a Cabinet, we approved a vaccine strategy and significant funding to support it in May.

"I can now report ministers have agreed to enter a legally-binding agreement for the auction to purchase approved Covid-19 vaccines for up to 50 percent of the New Zealand population, Tokelau, Cook Islands and Niue."

In this file photo Dr. Nita Patel, Director of Antibody discovery and Vaccine development, lifts a vial with a potential coronavirus, COVID-19, vaccine at Novavax labs in Gaithersburg, Maryland, US on 20 March 2020.

A vial with a potential Covid-19 vaccine at Novavax labs in US. (File image). Photo: AFP

This would take place through the global Covax facility, Ardern says.

"This is one of a number of key steps that will be taken to ensure New Zealanders have access to safe and secure Covid-19 vaccine when one becomes available."

An initial $27m investment - from the Covid-19 response and recovery fund - would help accelerate the production of any vaccines on a global level, and give New Zealand the option to purchase from a diverse portfolio of vaccine candidates should any prove successful, Ardern says.

"By supporting the Covax facility, we also demonstrate our commitment to ensuring vulnerable communities everywhere including the Pacific receive the vaccines they need."

More would be invested as the vaccine strategy is rolled out, she says.

But on speaking the likelihood of travel bubbles swith the Pacific and Australia before a vaccine is developed, Ardern said they were still working on the viability of those options.

"We prioritised obviously the Cook Islands, they are still in a good place they are waiting for us to get back into a good place.

"Likewise with Australia, we haven't put any timelines on it, but so long as they get into a position where they are free of community transmission that could be an option that would be back on the table."

In a statement, Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters said this was an official commitment to Covax, after the government had expressed interest in July.

Peters said additional funding would be required to purchase vaccines if any of the candidates in the Covax Facility portfolio were successful, but the exact amount of additional funding was not yet known.

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