Politics seeps into alert level decision as Winston Peters, Judith Collins question restrictions beyond Auckland

Politics seeped into the Government's decision to maintain the current alert level settings on Monday as NZ First leader Winston Peters and National leader Judith Collins questioned restrictions beyond Auckland. 

Auckland's North Shore was in a state of testing frenzy on Monday after a COVID-19 case went to a gym and a supermarket there spooking locals back to the testing stations. 

It came as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed that the current alert level 2.5 settings in Auckland and level 2 restrictions across the rest of the country would stay in place for at least another week. 

"On the advice of the Director-General [of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield], Cabinet has decided on a short extension on the current restrictions," Ardern said at a press conference in Dunedin. 

Auckland stays in 2.5 while the rest of the country stays at level 2, because despite no real spread beyond Auckland, there's a 25 percent chance COVID-19 will sneak out. 

"We need to keep all of New Zealand safe. Modelling does suggest there is still a risk that cases could travel out of Auckland and the bit of extra time gives us extra security against that," Ardern said. 

There was no change to levels, but a big change to the way we travel: Social distancing on transport - and critically planes - is no more. That means Jetstar is back and no longer grounded. 

Masks are still mandatory on planes and public transport. 

"Yeah look I'm excited about this," said Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran. "What it's allowed us to do is get 60,000 more seats out there available at some amazing prices this week."

A week is a long time in tourism and Rotorua relies on Kiwis visitors. Operators say they can handle the short alert level extension if it's lifted just in time.

"If we come into level 1 just coming into the school holidays, for a tourism company like myself and every other tourism company in the country, it's a perfect, perfect scenario," said Velocity Valley's managing director Simon Short.

Tracking south to the capital and the politics have seeped out, with the politicians themselves spread all over and crying political interference.

"The alert level moves are starting to look very political," said National leader Judith Collins. "I'd like the Prime Minister to front up and tell us exactly how those decisions are made." 

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters broke step with his Cabinet colleagues, invoking a rare 'agree to disagree' clause in NZ First's coalition agreement with Labour, arguing for level 2 in Auckland and level 1 for the rest of the country. 

"Slogging it out in circumstances where you can't get people into the hall, you can't talk to them. Politics and campaigning is a legitimate, essential issue when it comes to democracy and it's not happening," Peters told Newshub. 

Heading across the strait to the COVID-19-free south, the hospitality industry wants level 1 now.

"It's hard to understand why we're restricted when we don't seem to have any cases here in the South Island. We understand what the reason for it is, but there is a growing sense of frustration," said Kaiser Brew Garden manager Campbell Parker. 

There's been a similar sentiment in Queenstown, but the loosening of travel restrictions is manna from the skies. 

"Lots of people unable to get a seat here... this is great news, the town is celebrating, my phone has been running hot," said Queenstown Mayor Jim Boult. 

Ardern says we played the short game well and it's time to keep it up.

"We now need to keep our eyes on that prize and take actions to match that so that we can get to level 1 again and we will," she said. 

Next Monday if things tick along as they are the country will move to level 1. Cabinet will also decide if Auckland can have mass-gatherings starting next Wednesday.