Kiwis will be able to travel to and from Auckland in time for Christmas as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed the Government’s upcoming plans.
Video / Michael Craig / Dean Purcell / Mark Mitchell
Auckland is heading for more freedom in four weeks – as debate rages over whether the plan to open up is too slow, too fast or just too complicated.
After months in lockdown, Auckland’s borders will open in mid-December to the fully vaccinated and those who test negative for Covid-19.
It’s expected the whole country will swap the old alert level system for a new traffic light model in about two weeks’ time.
But although the new pandemic strategy could lift the economy, and people’s spirits, some people worry about when the traffic light system will be activated.
Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck said businesses in Auckland needed to know when and how the traffic light system would start.
December 1 has been touted as the most likely start for the new system. Auckland will begin at the most restrictive red light level, regardless of when the new system begins.
“Confirmation of the date remains a very important thing for us,” Beck said. “There is a lot for people to take in over the next few weeks.”
Beck told the Herald revenue for some CBD businesses in the current level three lockdown was down 95 per cent from the days before the Delta pandemic.
And Beck wondered why Auckland would most likely start off at the most restrictive light setting, when it had some of New Zealand’s highest vaccination rates.
Regions with very low vaccination rates are also likely to enter the system at red.
Beck said some firms were already struggling to stay afloat, let alone get organised or hire staff for summer events.
One date is certain – the Auckland boundary will lift at 11.59pm on Tuesday, December 14.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said that moment would recognise sacrifices the city’s people had made for the rest of New Zealand.
The border opening would allow people much greater freedom, he said.
“Tradies and business can go about their normal work,” Goff told the Herald. “It’s a reward for Aucklanders and the efforts they’ve made.”
The mayor said central Government strongly indicated the traffic light system would be activated within a day or two of November 29, when Cabinet meets.
Asked if it would be December 1, Goff said: “I don’t know for certain but I suspect it will be.”
The mayor said nobody could rule out the chances of the pandemic intensifying before then.
He said the Government had to recognise Auckland could not be locked down much longer, but balance that with safely moving to a freer system.
Goff anticipated about 200-300 new Covid-19 cases daily for the next few weeks.
About 86 per cent of eligible adults across greater Auckland’s three health districts are fully vaccinated, and 93 per cent have had their first dose.
But the Green Party said it was too soon to open up.
“Auckland is in a very different position to the rest of the country,” Green Co-leader Marama Davidson said. “The outbreak is uncontrolled, and case numbers are rising.”
National Party leader Judith Collins said the Government was moving too slowly.
She said Labour was conjuring a “summer of chaos” with the Auckland boundary and traffic light announcement.
“If Aucklanders can travel on December 15, they should be able to travel today. Why should we need border checks?”
Collins said logistical issues weren’t adequately considered ahead of the border relaxation.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the new model balanced people’s desire to travel with public health measures aimed at halting the pandemic.
“We are in a new phase in our fight against Covid-19,” Ardern said at the Beehive 1pm press conference yesterday.
Economist Peter Wilson said more certainty would be great, but many businesses recognised the country was facing the worst public health crisis in a century.
“What we’re dealing with is a very tricky virus, that if it gets out of control, will decimate the population.”
Wilson told the Herald some companies were struggling, but many had acquired resilience over the past 18 months.
“The economy is holding up surprisingly well,” said Wilson, NZ Institute of Economic Research principal economist.
He said inflationary pressures were building but the Reserve Bank would likely take measures to prevent inflation accelerating.
Wilson said people should expect Government subsidies for struggling businesses to be significantly reduced next year.
“The support is not going to go on forever, because it’s not going to be needed forever.”
Travel restrictions in place overseas meant many Kiwis would holiday domestically instead, Wilson said.
Increased domestic travel options this summer meant people who normally holidayed in Queensland or the Pacific islands would visit instead choose New Zealand destinations, he said.
“You’d expect there would be a fair bit of pent-up demand.”
Wilson said the economy bounced back from previous lockdowns, and he expected it to do so again.
There were 194 new community cases yesterday in Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Lakes/Taupo and Canterbury.
A man, in his 60s, died at North Shore Hospital. The Ministry said he was admitted to hospital on November 4 with Covid symptoms and subsequently tested positive. He died on Tuesday.