Coronavirus: Queenstown Mayor welcomes 'sensible' COVID-19 announcement

The mayor of one of New Zealand's top tourism centres is welcoming the Prime Minister's latest COVID-19 announcements.

Jacinda Ardern revealed on Monday that while current alert level settings will be extended by a week, if cases continue tracking as they currently are, most of New Zealand will move to alert level 1 next Monday night. Auckland's gathering limit could also be increased. 

In light of Kiwis' uptake of masks, Ardern also announced that operators of airlines, buses and trains will no longer have to maintain seating restrictions or passengers limits at alert level 2.

That move was welcomed by Jetstar, which immediately announced it would resume flying in New Zealand, ahile Air New Zealand put 180,000 airfares on sale for less than $50.

Queenstown-Lakes Mayor Jim Boult was ecstatic. He told Newshub most visitors come from centres like Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch via aircraft.

"[I am] very, very pleased about the removal of social distancing, particularly on air travel, as that was impacting us very badly," he said.

"With aircraft only able to load between two-thirds and 50 percent, it was badly affecting the number of people coming in. You simply couldn't get a seat on a plane. This is major good news for us."

The decision to extend the alert level settings by a week comes after 15 new cases emerged linked to a series of bereavement activities. Ardern described the group on Monday as a "potential trouble spot", which raised the "possibility that more people have been exposed within what is already our biggest cluster to date".

But no cases have recently emerged outside of Auckland, leading some to question why the likes of the South Island continue to be subject to restrictions. The Prime Minister said the rules are justified as modelling shows a 25 percent chance of cases moving outside of Auckland.

"We haven’t had many days without new cases appearing in Auckland and it only requires one person travelling and attending a super-spreader event somewhere else in the country and we could be looking at further restrictions everywhere," Ardern said.

"So the level 2 precautions we have in place continue to act as a safety barrier for flair ups in the rest of New Zealand."

Boult called it a "sensible" decision by the Prime Minister.

"There is always a risk-reward here around moving levels. We have had a nice signal that we are probably going to see a lowering back to level 1 - certainly for the rest of the country - on Monday.

"I don't think we are frustrated about that. That is understandable."

He said people he has spoken have generally been happy with the announcement and that operators will be able to prepare for a loosening of restrictions hopefully next week, days out from the "massively important" school holidays.