COVID-19: Aucklanders joyous at loosening restrictions despite warning case numbers will climb

Aucklanders will wake up to a little bit more freedom on Wednesday after the city moves to alert level 3, step 2 at 11:59pm on Tuesday

That means residents can go shopping again in store, mix with up to 25 mates outdoors and head to the public library.

The relaxation of restrictions in Auckland comes on a day when there were 190 new cases in the community and we learned two more people with COVID have died - one in hospital and one in MIQ.

The easing of restrictions comes with risks but many cooped-up Aucklanders think it's worth it.

This is the only good news Todd Male has had in almost three months.

"First time I've listened to the Prime Minister and had a smile on my face," he says.

He's owned Route 66 for three decades and he's just survived this lockdown by the skin of his teeth.

"It's been long times. It's seemed like we've endured so much getting back to some sort of normality."'

But come Wednesday morning the doors will be flung open and he's expecting to make up for lost time even with masks and social distancing requirements.

"I'm happy if one person comes in the door. I'm happy if 100 people come in the door just to open those doors to be here with the staff."

Thirteen-thousand Auckland retail stores are set to reopen with no vaccine mandates for staff or customers.

"I think it's amazing, wish they would open hopso as well," one person says.

"Still feel sorry for gyms and hairdressers. It's a long time... and they've lost a lot of money," another says.

They certainly have - in Auckland's city centre alone, by the end of the month businesses are on track to lose $1 billion since the first lockdown.

"In making this decision we've also considered the ongoing mental and emotional strain of lockdown on Aucklanders and business. We hope this will relieve some of the pressure," Jacinda Ardern says.

Aucklanders will also be able to meet outside in groups of up to 25 and libraries and other council-owned venues like the zoo, will also reopen.

But Christmas could come early in Auckland. Mark November 29 down - the date all Auckland DHBs are likely to hit 90 percent double-vaccinated.

Cabinet would then confirm the supercity would move to the traffic light system.

"Moving to the new framework at that time will mean certainty to Auckland - means all businesses can reopen and operate and we will manage cases as safely as possible but differently," Ardern explains.

The weekend brought with it a taste of summer but also a record number of cases. Lifting restrictions will of course be weighed against the potential human cost of COVID so keep a close eye on the hospitalisation rate.

"Inevitably it will mean case numbers will climb so it's a tradeoff," epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker says.

But there are many reasons - not just the weather - to be positive.

"We are in an amazing position to win over COVID in this pandemic. We're the lucky last, we can learn from everybody else but we have to tread carefully," epidemiologist Professor Rod Jackson adds.

But retailers are desperate for a stampede with only six weeks until Christmas - so people don't just have to window-shop.