“We are not giving up on getting back down to zero. That is absolutely what we are striving for,” Chris Hipkins told a press conference on Wednesday, shortly after sweeping lockdown restrictions were eased in the country’s biggest city.
Having endured five weeks under a punishing level-four lockdown, Auckland was moved to level three on Tuesday night, though an array of rules severely limiting freedom of movement remain in place. Travel is allowed only for “permitted reasons,” such as going to work or school, or to undertake essential shopping. Residents can be asked to provide evidence that warrants their need to travel to a particular destination. They are also strongly encouraged to stay within their household “bubbles” as much as possible and to work from home. Masks are obligatory in shops, on public transport and in hospitals, and those who venture outside are asked to keep a two-meter (six-foot) distance from other passers-by. Restaurants are allowed to reopen their doors, but only for contactless pick-up, delivery, or drive-through collection. All gatherings, except for weddings and funerals, remain banned.
Announcing Auckland’s transition into a new lockdown phase, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was quick to dispel any illusion that life had returned to normal. The level-three restrictions are set to last at least two weeks and the city “is not opening up,”she said. She also doubled down on her government’s controversial Covid-19 strategy, noting that New Zealand still has a policy of “zero tolerance for cases.”
The refusal of her government to follow the line taken by the rest of the world – including Australia, which has recently given up its “Covid zero” mantra – comes as the authorities struggle to suppress a Covid-19 outbreak in Auckland, where 23 new cases were reported on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases in the current community outbreak to 1,108. Until this latest surge, driven by the Delta strain of the virus, New Zealand had managed to keep its numbers very low. Since the beginning of the pandemic, it has reported only 3,763 confirmed cases and 27 deaths.