COVID-19 alert level 3.2: What the change means for Auckland and Waikato

Auckland and Waikato will shift to alert level 3 step 2, the Prime Minister announced on Monday, with the easing of restrictions coming amid high vaccination rates in both regions.

Waikato will move to level 3.2 at 11:59pm on Tuesday, with Auckland following suit a week later.

Both regions have for weeks been at alert level 3.1, which came with increased freedoms like two households being able to socialise outside, early learning centres to reopen and specialised healthcare to resume.

So what difference will the shift from level 3.1 to 3.2 make?

What's allowed at alert level 3.2

At Step 2, a number of restrictions can be relaxed.

The most notable change will see retail stores reopen, a move which is allowed so long as customers keep 2m apart and staff and customers wear face coverings.

Public facilities like libraries, museums and zoos can also open up again, as can fruit and vegetable markets and shopping malls - though food courts must be contactless and no food or drink can be consumed while at the mall.

Gyms and indoor recreation facilities including swimming pools will remain closed, as will cinemas, theatres and casinos. Businesses offering close contact personal care services such as hairdressers, barbers, massage parlours or beauty treatment centres will also stay shut for a while longer.

Gyms will remain closed at alert level 3.2.
Gyms will remain closed at alert level 3.2. Photo credit: Getty Images

Like at Step 1, hospitality venues at Step 2 such as cafes, bars, restaurants and takeaway shops can only open for contactless pick-up, delivery or drive-through.

For destinations with a number of different facilities on site, the Government says each facility must follow the rules that apply to the type of business it is.

For example, if a premises housed a library, gym and a cafe, the library could open, the gym would remain closed, and the cafe could open only for contactless service.

The rule allowing two households of up to 10 people to gather outside will be scrapped and replaced with an outdoor meeting limit of 25 people - though physical distancing is still strongly encouraged to prevent virus spread.

10-person, two-household picnics are scrapped and replaced with 25-person outdoor social gatherings.
10-person, two-household picnics are scrapped and replaced with 25-person outdoor social gatherings. Photo credit: Getty Images

Outdoor organised exercise classes, like yoga and fitness bootcamps, can expand from 10 to 25 people including instructors, with 2m distance required between attendees.

As at all steps of alert level 3, people are encouraged to stay at home as much as possible, wear a mask, keep their bubble small, keep track of where they have been and get a test if they are unwell.

When and how will restrictions ease further?

At this stage, it's not clear when Auckland and Waikato can hope to move to alert level 3.3 - the least restrictive step of this particular level - though it's likely to be at some point in November.

This is because double-vaccination rates continue to chug towards the 90 percent mark required to scrap the alert level system completely in favour of the traffic light system, which will see restrictions eased even further.

At level 3.3, there will be even bigger changes - with hospitality venues and event facilities allowed to reopen with a limit of 50 people.

Cafes, bars and restaurants can open to dine-in customers at alert level 3.3.
Cafes, bars and restaurants can open to dine-in customers at alert level 3.3. Photo credit: Getty Images

Close contact businesses, like hairdressers, barbers and beauty salons, will also be able to swing their doors open and social gatherings, both indoors and outdoors, can take place with a limit of 50 people in a defined space.

The 'red light' of the traffic light system will follow the shift to level 3.3, allowing greater freedoms - though many of these will be limited to those who have opted to get the vaccine.

At current rates, all Auckland's DHBs will hit double-jabbed rates of 90 percent and move into the traffic light system by the end of November, while Waikato will follow in early December.