Auckland to remain at Level 3 for 12 days

The Government has confirmed Auckland will stay at Level 3 for 12 days, but a move to Level 4 lockdown there or nationwide appears unlikely, with the worst-case scenario dodged for the time being

Auckland will remain at Level 3 and the rest of New Zealand at Level 2 for a further 12 days following the re-emergence of Covid-19 within the community, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced.

Auckland's lockdown will continue until 11.59pm on Wednesday August 26, with the rest of the country under looser Level 2 rules until the same time, although a review of the decision will take place in a week's time on August 21.

Speaking just under 72 hours after news of Covid-19 cases in South Auckland was made public, Ardern announced the next steps in the Government's bid to stamp out the cluster, classifying the approach as "short, but precautionary" at a press conference on Friday evening.

Extensive testing and contact tracing had shown the earliest case of a cluster centred on South Auckland was a worker at the Americold cool store who became sick on July 31. The current lockdown was sparked by a case that was detected on Tuesday.

A total of 29 cases had been linked to the Americold cluster, with one further case likely linked but still under investigation.

Ardern said overseas experience showed it was possible to contain a cluster or outbreak even if its origin was unknown, with the most important action being the creation of a perimeter around it. 

"[The cluster] will grow before it slows, and it may continue to be linked to schools, churches and social gatherings as it has done to date."

Genome sequencing had revealed the virus making its way through the current cluster was a strain of Covid-19 unrelated to any that had been detected in the country before, indicating it was not from a "burning ember" of earlier community transmission or a known case at the border. 

While the new community cases had been caught relatively early, the incubation period for Covid-19 and experience of previous clusters, some of which reached more than 80 cases, meant "we can expect to see more cases as part of this cluster", Ardern said.

"It will grow before it slows, and it may continue to be linked to schools, churches and social gatherings as it has done to date."

Ardern said an extension of the wage subsidy scheme would also accompany the extension of lockdown.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni would work on the idea over the weekend, with the extension made nationwide rather than restricted to Auckland. 

In a statement, Robertson said the nationwide wage subsidy extension was a recognition of the important role Auckland's economy played to the national one. 

An extension to the mortgage deferral scheme had also been agreed by Cabinet in principle, as part of a plan to support households after the existing scheme expired on September 27. 

Ardern said the Government did not want Auckland to remain at Level 3 for any longer than was required.

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