New Zealand’s largest city will remain at Alert Level 4, the highest setting for coronavirus curbs, until September 21.
While it’s been nearly a month after Auckland was plunged into lockdown, the mandatory stay-home order for its 1.7 million residents will remain in effect until 11:59 p.m. next Monday. New Zealand’s government has decided to keep Auckland at the highest lockdown setting due to concerns over several mystery cases that have not been linked to the current outbreak. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a press conference today, “It’s clear there is no widespread transmission of the virus in Auckland, but so long as we have new cases emerging, there are risks.” She announced the lockdown extension after 33 new coronavirus cases were reported on Monday, a slight increase on the 23 and 20 logged over the weekend.
The leader said the Level 4 lockdown was working, and the basic reproduction number of the virus had dropped from at least six at the start of the outbreak to less than one. “Level 4 remains our best option to beat Delta and contain the virus at this stage of the outbreak,” Ardern added. “We don’t want to risk the sacrifices everyone has made, and all the hard work you’ve put in, by moving to alert level three too quickly.”
After midnight on September 22, restrictions in Auckland will be downgraded to Level 3, but schools and offices will remain closed, along with all entertainment venues and public facilities such as swimming pools, museums, and libraries. Cafés and restaurants can open only for contactless takeout or delivery. Aucklanders will be legally obliged to stay within their household bubble; the only gatherings allowed are weddings and funerals with up to 10 people in attendance. The rest of the country will remain in Level 2 for the next week, and the setting is due to be reviewed on Monday. Under Alert Level 2, indoor events are capped at 50 people, while outdoor venues can accommodate double that figure. Masks are mandatory at indoor venues, on public transport, and aboard commercial flights.
Ardern’s government swiftly locked down the entirety of New Zealand on August 17 after detecting one locally transmitted case in Auckland involving the Delta variant. The current outbreak has infected 955 people so far and prompted authorities to speed up the nationwide inoculation program. Two-thirds of the country’s eligible population have now received at least one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, while 34 percent are fully vaccinated. New Zealand recently secured a quarter of a million extra doses from Spain, and has bought another 500,000 doses from Denmark; the latter shipment is due to arrive next week.