Auckland schools and customer-facing businesses re-opened on Monday and a ban on traveling out of the city was lifted, almost three weeks after the outbreak prompted the reintroduction of restrictions. Social distancing requirements remain in place for the whole country under level 2 restrictions and everyone from the age of 12 is now required to wear a mask on public transport.
“Our testing shows that it is highly unlikely there is Covid anywhere else in the country and we want to keep it that way,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said yesterday. “The last thing we want from re-opening Auckland is to spread the virus around the country, and that is one of the reasons we continue to have level 2 settings across New Zealand,” she said. The government expects to further review all alert settings by Sept. 6.
New Zealand became the envy of the world earlier this year when it succeeded in eliminating community transmission of the coronavirus by imposing a strict nationwide lockdown. Ardern said the government continues to pursue an elimination strategy and is confident it can stamp out the outbreak in Auckland, home to about a third of New Zealand’s five million people.
The Auckland cluster has grown to 141 cases in total, and the government expects new infections among close contacts to continue for some time. The source of the outbreak is still being investigated. New Zealand has 131 active cases, 24 of which are returnees from overseas who were quarantined on arrival.
Restrictions in Auckland remain slightly stricter than in the rest of the country, with gatherings limited to 10 and people encouraged to wear masks in public spaces. Ardern called Auckland’s settings “level 2.5” and wouldn’t rule out imposing broader mask-wearing requirements if people don’t abide by the current rules.
“Our system is good, it is designed to keep us on track with our elimination strategy at level 2, in the scenario we now have, but it will only work if people follow the guidance,” she said.