Prime Minister’s statement on alert level changes
Cabinet has met this evening to make decisions on our response to the three cases reported earlier within a household in Auckland.
Shortly I will ask Dr Bloomfield to set out some further information we now have relating to these cases.
New Zealanders have enjoyed more freedoms for longer periods of time than nearly any other country in the world. And we have never taken for granted how special that was.
But with Covid raging outside our borders, and new more transmissible strains emerging, we have had to both make continual improvements to strengthen our border while continuing to plan and prepare for managing any resurgence in the most effective way possible.
Cabinet’s plan is based on the best science and what we know works from previous cases here and responses overseas.
I will pass to Dr Bloomfield who will provide an update on the cases then I will set out the initial decisions that have been made in response, and what it means for everyone.
These new cases pose questions our public health staff are working around the clock to answer.
We don’t yet have a complete picture of the potential source of the infection and spread, if any, beyond one household and we are waiting for the genome sequencing and serology which will provide important pieces of the puzzle.
Regardless Cabinet has chosen to respond with a cautious approach that has served us so well previously and with the working assumption it could be one of the new more transmissible strains of Covid that we need to act with a high degree of caution to.
The most important lessons we’ve learned from the times we have stamped out flare ups and from cases overseas where outbreaks have gotten away is the need to go hard and go early to avoid the risk of a wider outbreak and longer periods of restrictions.
In line with this precautionary approach that has served us so well to date, cabinet have made the following decisions.
As of 11.59pm tonight, Sunday February 14 Auckland will move to Level 3 for a period of 3 days, until midnight on Wednesday.
The rest of New Zealand will move to Level 2 for the same period.
This will be reviewed on a 24 hour basis and we will provide daily updates.
Three days will give us time to gather further information, undertake large scale testing, and establish if there has been wider community transmission.
Let me set out what that means for Aucklanders and the rest of New Zealand.
The levels remain the same as you will recall from August.
That means the main thing we are asking people in Auckland to do is to stay home to avoid any risk of spread.
That means staying in your bubble other than for essential personal movement.
People should work from home unless that is not possible.
If you go outside your home maintain physical distancing of 2 metres outside, or 1 metre in controlled environments where you know the others present.
We are asking children to stay home from school. But you will remember, that in Level three Schools (years 1 to 10) and Early Childhood Education centres can open for children whose parents need to be at work.
Supermarkets, pharmacies, primary produce retailers, and petrol stations can remain open. So once again, no need to rush out this evening to any of these places. But we are again asking all other businesses that usually interact face to face with customers to move to non-contact methods – click and collect, or online ordering.
The main rule here is maintaining physical distancing between staff and not physically interacting with customers.
Public venues will be closed. For example, libraries, museums, cinemas, food courts, gyms, pools, playgrounds, markets.
Gatherings outside of your bubble are prohibited, with the exception of groups of 10 for wedding services, funerals and tangihanga. Physical distancing and public health measures legally must be maintained at those events.
Healthcare services will revert to using virtual, non-contact consultations where possible.
Inter-regional travel will be highly limited – for example people can go home if they are in Auckland and that is not their place of residence, and vice versa. Mask wearing on planes, trains, buses, ferries and in taxies will be required. But a border will be put in place in Auckland.
The border will be broadly similar to last time Auckland was at Level 3, but improvements have been made based on that experience. Those who need to travel through the border can go to the MBIE website.
People at high risk of severe illness, such as older people and those with existing medical conditions, are encouraged to stay at home where possible, and take additional precautions when leaving home.
If you are in Auckland we ask that you use a face covering if you need to leave your home.
That brings me to what Level 2 means for the rest of New Zealand.
We will be moving the rest of the country, outside of Auckland, to Level two. This will also come into place midnight tonight, and run through till midnight on Wednesday, so the same period of time that we have moved Auckland.
Businesses and schools remain open but public health guidance including physical distancing and record keeping need to be maintained. Alternative ways of working are encouraged where possible.
There is compulsory mask wearing on public transport and again you are encouraged to wear masks where you cannot maintain physical distancing.
Mass gatherings will need to be limited to 100 people.
Hospitality businesses must keep groups of customers separated, seated, and served by a single person with a maximum of 100 people at a time.
We have stamped out the virus before and we can do it again. We have a plan that works and our team of 5 million has shown time and again our ability to stick together to keep Covid out and keep each other safe.
Before I finish I want to talk about some of the health plans we have in place.
Auckland health officials will be expanding the testing capacity across the Auckland region. They will seek to test thousands of people over the coming days in order to understand any potential cases in the community.
It’s our intention to test students, staff and members of the school community from Papatoetoe High School.
We will also be testing all workers at LSG Sky Chefs where one of the cases worked.
We will also be undertaking wide testing of those who are symptomatic in Auckland. We ask anyone who is experiencing cold or flu symptoms to get tested. If you are well, and have not visited any places of interest – you do not need to be tested. Well people take up space in the testing queue and can slow down our ability to get a handle on the risk of spread.
Testing centre hours across Auckland have been extended in response to the new community cases.
Testing centres across Auckland reported strong demand for testing this afternoon. All testing locations in Auckland are available on the Auckland Regional Public Health Service website and on Healthpoint and at covid19.govt.nz
Finally I’m asking New Zealanders to continue to be strong and be kind. I know we all feel the same way when this happens – not again.
But remember, we have been here before, that means we know how to get out of this – together.
If you know someone in Auckland, give them a call.
If you are in Auckland, please make sure that your neighbours and ensure they are looked after and supported. And do tell them, it is going to be ok.