Auckland to move to orange level, experts weigh in

Epidemiologist cautions that the risks are still too high

Auckland to move to orange level, experts weigh in

10 days after the country adopted the new COVID-19 “traffic light” system, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced that Auckland and several other regions will move from the red to the orange level of the restrictions from 11:59pm on 30 December. But before the announcement was made, some experts said it was too soon to ease restrictions.

“I think the simple answer is that if we loosen restrictions more, we’re going to end up going up again by the end of the year,” epidemiologist Rod Jackson told Morning Report on Monday morning.

Despite 92% of Aucklanders being fully vaccinated, Jackson said it was still too early to move to the orange level, which allows for larger gatherings of both vaccinated and unvaccinated people. He pointed to New South Wales, which has seen case numbers jump to a 10-week high, as an example of what could happen with eased restrictions.  Co-leader of Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā, the National Māori Pandemic Group, Sue Crengle, said some communities, particularly Māori ones, still had rates too low to ease restrictions.

“I do believe the rates will come up but, just to give them time to do that, it may be that staying in the protection of red will give them that opportunity,” she said.

On Monday afternoon, Ardern announced that most of the other areas currently in the red level, including Taupō, Rotorua lakes districts, Whakatāne, Kawerau, Ōpōtiki, Gisborne, Wairoa, Rangitīkei, Whanganui and Ruapehu districts, would also be downgraded to the orange level just in time to ring in the New Year.

Northland will be the only region to remain in the red level. Ardern said the 30 December date was chosen to provide extra time for any potential impacts to be seen.

“This represents two incubation periods of the virus which we have consistently used to provide confidence around outbreak control throughout the pandemic,” Ardern explained. “Here today we have carefully balanced the range of advice, risks, views and settled on an outcome that means the country moves into the New Year with all but one region in the orange setting.”

The PM also noted that the latest advice on the Omicron variant, which has yet to appear in New Zealand, would be provided in early January, before the Cabinet makes its next decisions regarding restrictions on 17 January.  

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