The Government has eased physical distancing requirements on public transport, including on planes, trains and buses.
Speaking to media on Monday, prime minister Jacinda Ardern said extra measures in Auckland and good uptake of masks on public transport meant operators, including airlines, did not need to maintain any seating restriction or passenger capacity limits. Mask use remained compulsory though.
“I know this change will make a real difference to Air New Zealand and those parts of the country seeking increased numbers of visitors,” Ardern said.
The announcement comes after the tourism industry urged the Government to relax social distancing rules on flights ahead of the school holiday season, which starts in two weeks.
The prime minister also confirmed current alert levels – Auckland at Covid-19 alert level 2.5 and the rest of the country at level 2 – would be extended for another week.
She said it had been two weeks, or one transmission cycle, since Auckland moved to level 2.5. In that time there had been 36 cases of the virus emerge in the community, all associated with wider Auckland cluster.
“The last time we moved down from level 2 to level 1, we spent more than 26 days at level 2 and had gone 17 days without any new cases of Covid in the country,” Ardern said.
“So far we have spent 14 days at level 2.5 in Auckland, and have cases continue to emerge every day bar one.
“As we know more cases will emerge from this cluster’s tail and these new cases can continue to pose risk.”
She said there was a potential “trouble spot” within the Auckland cluster.
“The mini-cluster that emerged in the last two weeks related to the Mt Roskill Evangelical Church led to 15 cases, and while there is no evidence of significant spread outside of the Auckland cluster, this event does raise the possibility that more people have been exposed within what is already our biggest cluster to date,” Ardern said.
“The advice we have been given is that we should be cautious about moving to level one immediately and that it would be prudent to monitor case numbers for a short while longer.”
The alert levels would be reviewed on Monday 21 September, with a view to increasing gathering limits for Auckland, coming into effect on Wednesday 23 September.
While the status quo would be retained for now, Ardern said Cabinet had agreed in principle that at 11.59 Monday 21 September the rest of New Zealand would move to level 1, contingent on cases tracking as they were.
Ardern said the reason the rest of the country was not moving to alert level 1 now was because modelling suggested a 25% chance of cases moving outside of the Auckland region.
“While cases are currently contained in Auckland, with interregional travel open there does remain a risk of spreading the virus to the rest of the country,” she said.
“It only requires one person travelling and attending a super spreader event and we could be looking at further restrictions elsewhere. So the level 2 precautions continue to act as a safety barrier for flare-ups in the rest of New Zealand.”
There was one new community case of Covid-19 today, a young girl in Auckland linked to the current cluster.
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