Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and top members of her Cabinet have already decided whether Auckland comes out of level 2 today.
Ministers made the call last night but Ardern won’t reveal the decision until 11.30 this morning. The wait before announcing decision has been criticised by business leaders.
The outcome is likely to be a shift to alert level 1 – Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said he was “optimistic” that Auckland would be at alert level 1 this weekend.
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The timing of when today’s decision comes into force will have significant implications this weekend, including for the America’s Cup.
Aucklanders have cause to be optimistic ahead of the decision, given it has been two weeks since the last Covid-19 community case.
National leader Judith Collins said the delay in the announcement is the “height of arrogance from a Government that has shown itself devoid of understanding about the rigours of trying to operate a business”.
“Kiwis deserve more respect.”
Ardern, Hipkins and Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson have defended the timing.
Speaking to media in Hawke’s Bay yesterday, Ardern said the alert level period was based on the Covid-19’s two-week transmission period.
“It’s not just about when we make the decision, it’s about factoring in those time periods.”
The last community Covid-19 case was exactly 14 days ago today and despite tens of thousands of tests in Auckland not a single case has since turned up in the community.
There was a slight blip in the past week – an aircrew member was likely exposed to the virus overseas and tested positive as part of routine testing.
That was not treated as a community case and the person was quickly put into quarantine.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson is hinting that last night’s alert level decision could come into force today.
“The meeting is on Thursday to facilitate the announcement on Friday,” he told media yesterday.
“We didn’t want there to be any delay on Friday, so we are having the meeting [on Thursday night].”
Hipkins said last night’s meeting was to ensure Cabinet had assessed all the information “before that final button gets pushed”.
Business leaders were not impressed with Cabinet’s timing decision.
Auckland Business Chamber chief executive Michael Barnett said if Cabinet has already made the alert level decision, it should have told businesses promptly.
“This would have enabled businesses time to get ready to welcome customers and visitors back and make the most of having a full weekend of trade to make up for some of the crippling losses from level 3 and 2 restrictions.”
Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois agrees.
“Level 2 is still a highly restrictive trading environment for hospitality businesses so the sooner we can move out of it, the better.
“With many hospitality businesses on their knees in Auckland a quicker move to level 1 will be of some relief.”
She said if a decision to return to level 1 was made yesterday, bars and restaurants would welcome an immediate move.
“Or at the very least, an immediate communication of the timeframe [which was] decided to help our businesses plan and prepare.”
The timing when today’s decision comes into effect is important for a number of reasons – a major one being the America’s Cup.
Steve Armitage, from Auckland Unlimited, said he hoped the city would be back to alert level 1 settings by the weekend, with racing scheduled tomorrow and Sunday.
A move to level 1 would reopen fan zones and live events to the public, he said.
“We have a big weekend of action planned, including the resumption of many of our Summernova events if we shift to alert level 1,” he said.
Racing has been taking place at level 2, but with restrictions on fan gatherings.
That has meant the racing has taken place on courses that were least likely to draw large spectator groups on land.
It has also meant that events at the America’s Cup Race Village have cancelled.
A level 1 announcement would also be good news for the Auckland Arts Festival.
It would mean the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra rendition of the E.T. soundtrack could go ahead with its full schedule, as could concerts by artists such as Che-Fu & The Kratez and Anna Coddington.
“The recent lockdown has presented its challenges,” said festival chief executive David Inns.
“But the festival team is doing an incredible job of responding to the situation, and we are still confident that we have an excellent presentation in store.”