Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Aucklanders celebrate level 3 freedoms – but some say it’s a gamble

Aucklanders are this morning enjoying new freedoms as they sip takeaway coffee and munch bacon rolls and other takeaway food – but some view the city’s overnight move to level 3 as a gamble that could end New Zealand’s Covid elimination strategy.

As many as 300,000 workers are estimated to head back to work in the coming days, with restaurants, cafes and retail outlets opening for contactless sales and the construction industry ramping up.

Schools and kura in Tāmaki Makaurau are also reopening with strict conditions for children of essential workers – though few kids are expected to immediately return.

While Aucklanders will be relieved to step closer to a semblance of normality, health teams are still battling instances of people with Covid breaking the rules and investigating if undetected transmission has occurred either inside the city or in northern Hauraki.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says Auckland can still stamp out Covid but has stepped up calls for a team effort to get vaccinated.

She now wants 90 per cent of city residents to have had at least one vaccine dose before the next alert level announcement in two weeks.

“Every unvaccinated person is a risk,” she said.

“It means that getting the vaccine yourself is not enough, you need to encourage and help others to do the same.”

The move to level 3 is the first time part of the country has moved down the alert level scale while active cases of the highly infectious Delta variant are still being discovered in the community.

Some pundits fear health teams could lose control of the virus, leading to long lockdowns until enough people are vaccinated.

Fourteen new community cases were announced yesterday, with one of those yet to be linked back to a known cluster.

That meant 10 cases from the last fortnight remain unlinked, while nine of the new cases announced on Monday were infectious while in the community.

Then there is the recent spread of the virus outside Auckland.

That took place when a Black Power gang member became Covid-positive after being released on electronically monitored bail from Auckland’s Mt Eden remand prison to his home north of Kaiaua on the Hauraki Plains.

The man shares the home with eight others.

Two children and two more household members have since tested positive.

One of the children had symptoms while at school last week, raising fears the virus could already be spreading outside the community into other parts of the country.

Health teams have attempted to ring fence any spread by putting the immediate area into a “bespoke level 4” lockdown.

But some have questioned whether localised lockdowns can work, following the uncontrolled spread of Delta in Australia.

Back in Auckland another scare took place at the North Shore Hospital last Thursday.

A man who tested positive for Covid-19 was found to have spent half an hour in the hospital and may have come into contact with up to 20 staff after sneaking in.

Waitemata District Health Board said he bypassed the hospital’s screening processes and hid from security before running into a lift.

Ardern yesterday promised to get tougher on people breaking the rules.

She announced heavier fines for Covid infringements with the current $300 fine for individuals being increased to a maximum $4000.

Those who are taken to court face a maximum $12,000 fine – up from $1000.

Businesses can face fines up to $15,000.

She said the old fees did not properly reflect the significant social and economic harm that just one person with Covid-19 could cause when doing the wrong thing.

“Nor do they act as a sufficient incentive to play by the rules,” she said.

However, many Aucklanders and business owners are today breathing a sigh of relief.

The lockdown, now in its 36th day, has come at tremendous cost for the team of 1.6 million in Tāmaki Makaurau.

Mayor Phil Goff earlier said the psychological and financial pressures had been growing on residents, with many people “on the edge”.

He welcomed the move to level 3, allowing businesses to resume click-and-collect shopping, and Aucklanders to grab a takeaway meal at their favourite restaurant.

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