Christmas freedoms for Auckland: What we know and don't know so far

As the Government continues mulling over increased Christmas freedoms, Aucklanders' anxious eyes are fixed on the fast-approaching December 25 date.

The region remains in lockdown with the highest number of cases in the country, and a hard border preventing residents from carrying COVID to the rest of the country.

Meanwhile a push to raise vaccination rates has now seen all of Auckland's three DHBs reach 90 percent first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, bringing Auckland one step closer to moving to the traffic light system and an easing of restrictions.

Will Aucklanders be allowed to leave?

There's been confusion over the past week over whether or how Aucklanders would be allowed out of their region - much of it inflicted by COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins musing they might need to apply for allocated time slots for travel.

Around 40,000 people will want to cross the Auckland border each day when it eventually opens for the holidays, posing both logistical and safety challenges.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Government is "totally committed" to allowing Aiucklanders move around for summer and Christmas, but this needs to be done "in the safest way possible".

She told Newshub Nation on Saturday the obvious options - vaccine certificates and testing - all require a hard border. 

"We've tended to use [borders] for short periods of time and for small numbers of people. We've got to find something workable. Here's the challenge though - 30,000 to 40,000 people needing to move all at once. 

"So we've just got to figure out a way to make sure that people aren't stuck in queues for long periods of time. No decisions have been taken, no decisions. But that's the dilemma… We want to make it as smooth as we can.

"But one thing I will say to Aucklanders is we are not going to keep you trapped over Christmas. We can't, we won't, it's not right, but we have to find a way that we can continue to keep people safe."

Ardern said a decision hasn't been made on whether only vaccinated people would be allowed to travel, or whether areas with low vaccination rates would have their own borders to keep Aucklanders out.

"As I've said, my commitment to Aucklanders is that they will have a summer break. My commitment is to New Zealand and this is what we're working very hard on. Everyone needs a reprieve right now. People are COVID exhausted."

In an update to The AM Show on Monday, Ardern confirmed no decision has been made yet.

"We've never had a hard land boundary in New Zealand for an event like this and what we've had in place was only ever designed to be temporary so the issue we'll have is; over summer, 30,000 to 40,000 vehicles a day seeking to move and, at that point, checking things like testing and vaccine certificates for every occupant in a car - you can imagine what logistical challenges that presents," she said.

"I understand that people want to know, I absolutely do… We've given the commitment, we know we need to enable people to move but this is a once-in-a-generation pandemic situation where we're trying to establish something that, historically, New Zealand has never had.

"The closest thing we have are toll booths and it's vastly different from what we're trying to operate. At the same time, it was only ever designed to be a temporary solution."

What restrictions could be in place on Christmas Day?

On Sunday, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced all three of Auckland's DHBs have reached 90 percent first doses.

This brought Auckland DHB to 95 percent first doses and 87 percent second doses, and Waitematā DHB to 92 percent first and 83 percent second, and Counties Manukau to 90 percent first doses and 80 percent second doses.

Once 90 percent of eligible people in all three DHBs in the city are fully vaccinated, Auckland will move into 'Red' in the new traffic light system.

Under Red, hospitality venues will be able to open with up to 100 people who are fully vaccinated, events could go ahead with up to 100 vaccinated people.

If a business chooses not to use vaccine certificates, only contactless hospitality would be allowed, and only 10 unvaccinated people could gather for events.

It's good news on the horizon for the hospitality industry, desperate to salvage some success after a brutal few months of lockdown.

HeadQuarters owner Leo Molloy says he's excited at the prospect of being back in action.

"We're taking bookings for Christmas functions... I know a lot of people haven't got organised. But now's your opportunity to get on the phone, the reservation book's open," he says on Facebook.

"Between December 1 and Christmas time we've got three short weeks to make up for everything you've missed out on."

In the meantime, from 11:59pm on Tuesday November 9 Auckland will move down to level 3, step 2 in a major boost for retailers.

Under the loosened restrictions, retail stores and malls can open for Kiwis getting some early Christmas shopping done as long as customers and staff wear face-coverings.