Coronavirus: The 'two key things' Cabinet will consider when it decides whether to change COVID-19 alert levels

The Director-General of Health says "two key things" will inform his recommendation on whether to downgrade New Zealand's COVID-19 alert level settings on Wednesday.

Auckland, home to a third of the country's population, is currently in lockdown at alert level 3, while the rest of New Zealand is at level 2. This escalation in the Government's coronavirus response followed the emergence of three new community cases in south Auckland over the weekend.

The alert level changes came into force at 11:59pm on Sunday and were slated to last for an initial 72 hours, so until the same time on Wednesday - though this may be extended depending on the severity of the outbreak.

At the moment, however, the outlook is rosy. Since the initial discovery of the community cases on Sunday, New Zealand has gone two days without finding any more - despite tens of thousands of tests being carried out in that period.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield says these test results will be "fundamental" to whether he recommends a de-escalation of alert levels to Cabinet on Wednesday.

He told a press conference on Tuesday afternoon there are two main criteria he'll be looking at:

  • whether there has been any onward transmission from the three community cases; and

  • whether any parallel chains of transmission or earlier infections have been identified.

As it stands, there hasn't been any sign of either. But COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says any speculation on whether Cabinet would scale back New Zealand's alert level settings is premature.

"Ultimately what we'll do through the course of the day tomorrow is we'll assess what information we have during the day, then we'll make a decision when we feel we're in a good position.

"Once we identify what course of action to follow, we then need to work out how we operationalise that. Depending on the decision we make, there may be a notice period before that gets implemented.

"[But] really it depends on how confident we are of the information we have and how early we get that information.

"We've been in this position before, where we thought we could make a decision at a particular time then we realised a few more hours and we'd have a few more pieces of the puzzle. So it's all very speculative at this point."

Hipkins says in addition to testing and case numbers, Cabinet will also be considering information gleaned from the investigation into the source of the outbreak on Wednesday.

Both he and Dr Bloomfield are "quite confident" keeping the current alert level settings in place until then is the right approach.