Coronavirus: As it happened - Jacinda Ardern's COVID-19 alert level decision, September 4

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced Cabinet's decision to keep Auckland at COVID-19 alert level 2.5 and the rest of New Zealand at alert level 2 until September 14. 

What you need to know: 

  • Aucklanders woke up on Monday to what the Prime Minister described as "level 2.5", with social gatherings limited to 10 people and masks recommended to be worn in public. 
  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced that the current alert level settings will remain until Cabinet meets again to review them on September 14. 
  • It's been almost a month since the latest COVID-19 outbreak in Auckland which sparked the city's alert level 3 lockdown and sent the rest of the country into alert level 2. 
  • There are currently 112 active cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand, 75 in the community linked to the south Auckland cluster, and 37 at the Government's managed isolation facilities. 
  • Restaurant Association CEO Marisa Bidois is "disappointed" to be spending more time at alert level 2 and level 2.5, but was not surprised the decision was made. 

These live updates have finished. 

3pm - Hospitality NZ CEO Julie White says the extension of alert level 2.5 in Auckland will be incredibly challenging for the sector and is urging the Government to relax the 10-person cap on social gatherings.

"It's encouraging to know we aren't going up alert levels. That does come as a sense of relief, but in our industry working at level 2-2.5 is still quite prohibitive. Continuing to abide by the three S's - seated service, social distancing and single servers - means many businesses are still losing money," she said.

"Given these circumstances, we are pushing for the maximum 10-person cap on social gatherings to be removed in Auckland. This would lessen restrictions on our Auckland-based operators and allow many of them to quickly return to a sense of a new normal."

White is asking what the difference is between tables of 14 - an extra four people - when it can operate like its own bubble.

"We don't understand the rationale from the Government on this 10-person cap and we'd like some flexibility on this," she said.

"Half of our members have said they will need to make redundancies or restructure within the next two months. Coupled with the end of the wage subsidy, sadly there will be thousands of people moving from paid employment to lining up for government benefits."

2:48pm - The Government is making short-term changes to visa settings to help visitors and temporary migrants remain in New Zealand lawfully while they arrange travel home.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi says current onshore visas due to expire before the end of October will be automatically renewed for five months.

The Government is also introducing a new two-month COVID-19 short-term visitor visa to help temporary migrants who are unable to leave New Zealand because of international travel restrictions.

"Temporary migrants need to have a valid visa to remain lawfully in New Zealand, otherwise they are required to leave the country," Faafoi said.

"However, we know that international travel restrictions due to COVID-19 have affected many people's ability to leave New Zealand before their visas expire.

"These changes will provide visitors and other temporary migrants stranded in New Zealand with more certainty and time to organise travel arrangements home."

More details on how to apply for the COVID-19 short-term visitor visa will be available on Immigration New Zealand's website by mid-September.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi.
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi. Photo credit: Getty

2:40pm - ACT leader David Seymour has hit out at the Government's decision to extend the alert level settings for a further 10 days saying it shows how "ill-prepared" they are.

"The continuation of restrictions for another two weeks shows just how ill-prepared the Government has been when it comes to dealing with COVID-19," Seymour said in a statement.

"New Zealanders have every right to feel angry and let down by the Government today. Our movements are being restricted because it hasn't done its job properly.

 "Rather than engaging with the private sector to get better technology, the Government spent months doing victory laps and assuring New Zealanders its contact tracing was world-class.

"The result is that we have had to rely on expensive and damaging lockdowns as a response to COVID-19 outbreaks."

ACT leader David Seymour.
ACT leader David Seymour. Photo credit: Getty

2:20pm - Marisa Bidois, CEO of the Restaurant Association, is "disappointed" to be spending more time at alert level 2 and level 2.5, but says she was not surprised the decision was made.

"We continue to engage with Government for targeted assistance to compensate our businesses who through no fault of their own are experiencing significantly reduced revenues," she said in a statement.

"We have a meeting with Treasury next week to discuss some of the ideas we've put on the table such as our 'Dine Out To Help Out' scheme as well as additional fiscal relief as this pandemic continues to disrupt our lives."

Under level 2.5, Aucklanders must abide by the three S's at hospitality venues: seated, separated and single-server. 

2pm - The latest health data shows that the three new cases of COVID-19 in the community are all epidemiologically linked to the Mt Roskill evangelical church cluster, which is known to be linked to the wider Auckland August cluster.

Since August 11, contract tracing teams have identified 3191 close contacts of cases, of which 3136 have been contacted and are self-isolating, and the rest are in the process of being contacted.

There are 82 people linked to the community cluster who remain at the Auckland quarantine facility, which includes 59 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and their household contacts.

There are six people with COVID-19 in hospital.

1:50pm - There have been warnings of the long tail of the Auckland COVID-19 cluster, and the Director-General of Health was asked if he expects the emerging mini clusters to grow.

"Without wanting to predict the future, we would expect that because those clusters came later in the outbreak, we expect those to be the cases that continue for the longest period," Ashley Bloomfield said.

"Because there is this opportunity now for cases and their whānau to go into a quarantine facility, that reduces the transmission within households, which we are seeing is where most of the transmission happens.

"Indeed, the two cases in managed isolation today were within a family unit, so I think that will help reduce the length of the tail here and I think that applies to those sub-clusters that appeared early on and I think the same will happen for these latter groupings."

1:45pm - It's been two weeks since Health Minister Chris Hipkins said rules would be coming out regarding testing and isolation for air crew, and the Prime Minister was asked what's taking so long.

"There are ongoing discussions with Air New Zealand," Ardern said. "The implications of some of those rule changes are reasonably significant, particularly for freight, so we do need to make sure that for freight, where there may need to be separate arrangements, that we get those settings right."

She expects in the early part of next week there will be a final order drafted, but Government ministers are still working on it.  

1:39pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked during her media conference if there is any chance the alert levels could be moved down before the September 14 review date. 

"No, we've obviously set in place the time that we will be reviewing those settings," she said. "But again, it doesn't necessarily mean that when we next consider those settings that the whole country needs to be at one alert level.

"We will be open to considering some variation therein, very much depending on the risk that we see from that current cluster, so we are open to considering that." 

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield.
Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield. Photo credit: Getty

1:44pm - Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield has explained what health officials will be considering over the next couple of weeks in the lead-up to Cabinet's next alert level decision.

"Rather than zero cases per se - and this is community cases, we will keep getting cases in managed isolation - is the expected versus unexpected cases," he said.

"For example, the three cases today are all part of the Mt Roskill evangelical church grouping, they were already in self-isolation and they were known close contacts.

"So, that in itself doesn't present any additional risk to the community. It may be that it's some time until we see low numbers of cases, but it doesn't need zeros per se.

"But one thing we are going to continue in Auckland and around the country over the next couple of weeks is the high levels of surveillance testing in the community, and not just testing people with symptoms, but also looking at specific groups who are asymptomatic, who may have been in contact with Aucklanders."

1:34pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says when Cabinet meets on September 14 to review the alert level settings, there will be room for variation, so the whole country doesn't have to be at the same level. 

1:32pm - Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield says testing will be important out of Auckland going forward now that Aucklanders can travel across the country under alert level 2.5 rules. 

1:30pm - The Prime Minister is urging politicians to be consistent on public health messaging and to encourage people to get tested for COVID-19. She says she will exercise caution when out and about campaigning for re-election. 

1:29pm - The Prime Minister says the alert level decision-making is based on "evidence and science, not politics", after National leader Judith Collins said she suspects there is a "certain amount of politics" in the decision-making. 

1:26pm - When Cabinet's next review comes around on September 14, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the risk in Auckland will be assessed which will then determine whether the rest of the country should remain at level 2. 

1:25pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Government has reached out to organisations that might be holding conferences to consider the fact that Aucklanders might be joining and that it could potentially spread the virus beyond the super-city. 

1:20pm - The Prime Minister said Cabinet discussed whether the 10-person social gathering limit in Auckland should stay in place, but she said there was no consideration given to moving the alert level settings, which will stay in place until September 14. 

1:18pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed that Cabinet discussed the possibility of bringing the South Island out of level 2 but she said there was risk in doing that because Aucklanders are free to travel there. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Getty

1:16pm - The Prime Minister has thanked New Zealanders for being "passionate" and "determined" during the latest COVID-19 outbreak. She is asking Kiwis to "double down" their efforts and to "keep going". 

1:15pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says there will be a visible police presence around bars and places of social gathering over the weekend to ensure Aucklanders are sticking to the 10-person limit on gatherings. 

1:13pm - The Prime Minister says even if cases of COVID-19 had stopped appearing in the last few days, there was still a chance it could have spread out of Auckland, which is why the rest of the country remains at level 2. 

1:10pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced the current alert level settings will remain until a review on September 14. 

1:07pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says since Auckland's move to alert level 2.5, 30 cases have been detected, all of them already in isolation. 

1:06pm - The Prime Minister says the Auckland cluster remains contained and there is no need for Auckland to move back into alert level 3. 

1:05pm - There are six people in hospital with COVID-19 in New Zealand and there are 82 people in quarantine, 59 who have tested positive for the coronavirus. 

1:03pm - Director-General of Health has announced five new cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand, two imported in managed isolation facilities, and three in the community all linked to the south Auckland cluster. 

12:50pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will be joined by Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield in 10 minutes at 1pm to announce the alert level decision in Wellington. 

12:10pm - New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has defended his criticism earlier this week of the Government's COVID-19 response.

The Deputy Prime Minister claims he said two days before New Zealand went into lockdown that the military "had to be involved", and says he has witnesses to back that up.

"I said way back on the 19th of March that you've got to bring in people like Heather Simpson and have the oversight of the bureaucracy to make these things work," he told Newstalk ZB.

"I said back then we need to have masks. Why? Because Taiwan is the most successful economy in terms of hounding COVID-19 bar none, they've got 24 million people and under eight deaths."

Asked why he didn't go public with that sooner, Peters said: "You don't shake someone's hand and give a commitment to keep a coalition going for three years which we did, all the way to when the House rose."

NZ First leader Winston Peters.
NZ First leader Winston Peters. Photo credit: Newshub

12:05pm - Otago University Professor Michael Baker, an epidemiologist, does not think the alert levels should be lifted yet because there are still new cases popping up in the community.

"We can't really move down a level yet because we are still seeing cases at the moment, things that happened 10 days ago because we are always looking backwards. We need at least another week at this level 2.5 in Auckland," he told The AM Show.

"The essence is we want to clobber the virus and be as kind as we can to people. We want the kids back at school, everyone back at work, but it is just too soon. We are doing a great job, but you have to be patient when you are trying to stamp out this virus."

Auckland University Professor Shaun Hendy, a physicist who has provided COVID-19 modelling for the Government, also believes more time is needed at alert level 2.5 for Auckland and level 2 for the rest of the country.

"I think it would be wise to figure out how well the current settings have worked before we change them. That is the challenge in managing this disease, you do have to wait a while to understand if the measures you are taking are being effective," he told RNZ.

"I think you just have to move at this sort of fortnight to fortnight pace."

Read more here.

11:45am - Despite there being no evidence yet to show where the latest COVID-19 outbreak in Auckland came from, National Party leader Judith Collins suspects it came from the border.

"There has been a failure and I think one of the things we know is that that failure must have been at the border. It must have been either the sea border or the air border," she told reporters in Christchurch.

"Clearly what we've found since it was discovered is that a lot of the testing we were promised was not in place, that the work had not been done around how a regional lockdown could work when it came to things like exemptions, and I think in Auckland it's been a bit of a mess and real hardship for a lot of businesses.

"I actually think it's been staggeringly badly handled. But look, we'll wait to see what the result is today and hopefully we'll be able to move out of these alert level lockdowns, yo-yoing in and out of them, much quicker than we might suspect.

"But I'm not passing judgement on that because if I do, I don't have the information the Prime Minister's got."

11:30am - National Party leader Judith Collins suspects there is a "certain amount of politics" in the Prime Minister's decision to move the alert levels. 

"I don't have any confidence in the current Cabinet at all. But my view is it's not for me to argue about the health information that the Prime Minister's got because I do not have that information," she told reporters in Christchurch. 

"We never even had a level 2.5 until it was announced by the Prime Minister on Sunday so I think people are starting to realise it's not just a health decision, is it? There's a certain amount of politics going on here. 

"I just think the Prime Minister needs to front up and tell people how these decisions are being made. Is it all health or is there something else to it? I think New Zealanders are owed an explanation."

National Party leader Judith Collins.
National Party leader Judith Collins. Photo credit: Newshub

10am - ACT leader David Seymour is urging the Government to balance the threat of COVID-19 with the billions of dollars it has accrued in debt to help the economy stay afloat. 

"Spending more time at alert level 2 means less business activity, less work, less tax, and more debt. Every hour at Level 2 is costing the economy about $2.7 million," he said in a statement. 

"COVID-19 is a threat, but it's not the only one. When Cabinet meets today, it needs to consider the new debt it's piling on future generations, too.

"Every extra dollar the Government spends to support the economy will have to be taxed later.

"It's the kids currently at intermediate who'll lose. They'll pay higher taxes for fewer services tomorrow because of politicians' irresponsibility today. Borrowing now and forgetting tomorrow is fiscal child abuse.

"When businesses and households tighten their belts, so should politicians. We need an honest conversation about our spending and debt problem."