Coronavirus: Psychologist warns Kiwis not to get lulled into false sense of security after alert level changes

Jordan Bond for RNZ

Auckland's out of lockdown - again - but on the same day it emerged there's a new case to grapple with.

Some are wondering if Aucklanders have become a little too relaxed in the face of the ever-present threat of Covid-19.

While the rest of the country is at alert level 1, for at least this week Auckland is at alert level 2 meaning people can go to workplaces and schools are open but there are limits on gathering sizes and no mingling at restaurants and bars.

After seven days of no community cases linked to the Papatoetoe cluster, it was an aircrew member who broke the streak and was recorded as the country's first case outside of managed isolation in that time.

Some in Auckland say they've grown a little tired of the restrictions, and have dropped their guard to some extent, with level 2 being treated as level 1.

"You go outside during level 2... and it doesn't really look any different than level 1," one man in central Auckland said. "It's basically the same," another said.

"I definitely noticed this time the feeling is that people are fatigued and over it... We're seeing everybody else be more relaxed, which is possibly in turn making us more relaxed."

Just a handful of masks were being worn at a busy supermarket on day one out of lockdown, a tiny minority of shoppers, and even some of the staff were maskless.

Easy to adopt a false sense of security - psychologist

Having had a year of Covid-19 being here and Auckland's regular alert level changes, it's not a surprise people are a bit over it, according to psychologist Dr Sarb Johal.

"I think it's easy for that to happen... and if we're not careful we can get lulled into a [false] sense of security that 'low risk' means 'no risk' in our minds."

Covid modeller Professor Michael Plank said a week of no cases with high levels of targeted testing was the best possible scorecard.

"It's certainly really, really good news that we've gone a week with no new cases. It's still possible that more cases could pop up so we certainly can't say we're completely out of the woods yet."

At 7pm on Sunday an unrelated case in the community was found, however the Ministry of Health deems the risk low. It is categorised a border case given its origin was outside the country and brought in, rather than the person being infected locally.

The positive case is an airline crew member, who had visited the Auckland Airport Countdown on Wednesday around midday, but mostly - due to level 3 - stayed at home.

All three of the person's household members have tested negative.

Microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles said it was a little too early to say for sure how much of a risk this case posed.

"Once we know a little bit more about whether the person has developed symptoms, what variant of the virus they have, these are all important things that'll help us assess a little more what the risk might be," Dr Wiles said.

If new cases within the Papatoetoe cluster pop up this week that have clear and known links to existing cases, Dr Plank said staying at level 2 would likely still be good enough.

But if cases appear and can't be linked straight away to that cluster, that's a risk - and there's a chance another lockdown is on its way.

Auckland University public health professor Colin Tukuitonga is full of praise for the people of Papatoetoe, the centre of the last outbreak. He said by and large they had done their public health duty very well.

"Unfortunately, we've had some mis-steps about communication... and that's taken the focus off the fact that the great majority of the Papatoetoe High community have done what is expected of them... and in fact done well to protect us by limiting their spread to the immediate neighbourhood," Dr Tukuitonga said.

Dr Plank said there may also be some good fortune on Auckland's side.

"As with all of these things, it's a combination of good luck and good management. We've been lucky to avoid cases at the gym potentially, but you've got to remember the hard work of our contact tracers and health officials has helped prevent a lot more of those cases."

Dr Johal said although it can feel uncomfortable to do something different, such as wearing a mask when others aren't, those behaviours are critical to keeping our freedoms.

"I think I've heard people saying 'I wore a mask' or 'I checked in' and people were looking at me sideways, as in 'why are you doing that?'.

"Encourage other people - if as many of us are doing that as possible then those that are doing it don't feel so alone. It's the only thing that's going to keep us safe.

"We're not going to have the vaccine in the population for a while; it's our behaviour that's going to keep us safe."