Epidemiologist calls for harder border to protect South Island from COVID - but Prime Minister rules it out

South Islanders aren't surprised they're staying at level 2 despite zero cases recorded month after month.

A leading epidemiologist says it's only a matter of time until the virus reaches the South Island so it should be better protected.

Level 2 is still hanging over the South Island.

"Not really that happy about it but I think we have to look at the greater good of the country," one person said.

Monday's news that a cap on 100 patrons under level 2 will be lifted great for some. But hold the horse for large events like Cup and Show Week.

"We just need a bit of certainty, if they are rolling out vax passports or they are thinking about different numbers, we can make anything happen, we just need to know what the plan is," Addington CEO Brian Thompson says.

Epidemiologist Michael Baker wants a plan too, as he believes the virus will eventually head south.

"Whether it's essential workers or people that have broken the rules and left Auckland, somehow [they] will take the virus to the South Island, I think we have to plan on that," he warns.

He says the Government could have a harder border around the South Island, supplemented with rapid antigen testing.

"Only vaccinated people should be leaving Auckland now as essential workers, that's very reasonable because there will be alternative people in most instances who could travel so I think we should be restricting travel now," he says.

But the Prime Minister on Monday was ruling out that harder border.

"The view has been that actually by the time you come to that border it may be too late, we need to get the testing actually completed before they move down," Jacinda Ardern said.

Meanwhile, Air NZ won't implement its 'no jab, no fly' policy for the domestic market - yet.

"I think we should just be thoughtful and work through the domestic solution, I certainly would encourage our customers to get vaccinated, I think that is the right answer," Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran said.

The first plane of RSE workers touched down in Christchurch this morning, with quarantine-free travel now a thing for seasonal workers from Vanuatu, Samoa and Tonga.

Teviot orchardist Peter Vernon will welcome two new workers.

"This is a good start for us for the coming season and it's going to help with anybody's, dare I say it, mental health," he says.

"There's been a lot of strain on the guys working, my permanent guys, our own families."

There's also good news for one of his workers who's been here longer than COVID has. He'll now swap out with his brother and head home to his family.

"I'm really excited for going home and they're going to stay here for helping me and our families back home," orchard worker Terrick Lele says.

But for many others, wanting to see their families, even in New Zealand - it's still unclear.