Coronavirus: Labour minister David Parker hints Auckland moving to alert level 1

Labour minister David Parker has hinted Auckland will soon move down to alert level 1, telling The AM Show that the region's COVID-19 situation "is looking good".

Cabinet met on Thursday evening to review the region's alert level settings, the first assessment of current restrictions since Auckland moved out of lockdown on Sunday morning. With several large events planned for this weekend - including America's Cup racing - organisers and business owners are anxiously awaiting the Government's decision.

Speaking to The AM Show on Friday morning, Parker promised an announcement "before Christmas" before realising he misspoke and confirming the decision will be made public "before midday". The Prime Minister currently has a press conference scheduled for 11:30am.

Parker then went on to hint that Auckland is on its way down alert levels. 

"It is looking good. It is looking good. We took the in-principle decision but we wait for the latest data, which will come out this morning, and if there is bad news in there, we might have to revisit it."

The AM Show newsreader Amanda Gillies said we can read a lot into Parker's "it is looking good" comment. Parker responded by saying we all know it is looking good.

National MP Simon Bridges, who appeared on The AM Show alongside Parker, suggested the minister had "just stolen the PM's announcement", to which the Labour politician said he hadn't.

While Cabinet made an "in-principle decision" on Thursday evening, making the announcement on Friday has been criticised by hospitality business owners and those waiting to see if they can hold events and weddings this weekend. 

National Party leader Judith Collins asked on Thursday why there is a wait to inform Aucklanders.

"Why not tell Aucklanders now? Is the Government determined to treat Kiwis like children, telling us to wait for an announcement of a decision that has already been made," she said.

Max Tweedie, director of Auckland's Pride, has expressed his frustration, saying there are Pride events waiting on the announcement.

"Time is an invaluable resource when we're rescheduling shows, communicating with our audiences, and [to] be able to quickly and effectively roll out changes."

But COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Thursday that a final decision wasn't necessarily being made later that day. 

"It is about making sure that we have all of the right information, that everything is being followed-up, that if there are any additional issues that people need information on before that final button gets pushed, that we have that. We will make an announcement as soon as we are able to."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the timing of the announcement allowed ministers to assess vital, up-to-date data. 

"We very much apply time periods based on periods of infection and transmission, once we’ve had a case that’s been in the community," she said. "So it’s not just about the point that we make the decision. We’re often factoring in those time periods at the same time."

Friday will mark two weeks on from Case M's visit to a populated gym. COVID-19 typically has a two-week incubation period.

Case M was the positive case that prompted Auckland's return to lockdown on February 28. At the time, they had no immediately apparent link to the current cluster, but a connection between them and another case later emerged. It also concerned officials that Case M had visited a number of public locations.

All contacts from the gym have come back negative. The Ministry of Health had been trying to track down one person who was slow to get tested, but on Wednesday announced they had been tested and returned a negative result. 

Last Friday, when Ardern announced Auckland would move out of alert level 3 lockdown, she said a shift down to alert level 1 was possible this Friday "if we are in a position to do so". She said the Government's plan was "consistent with our cautious and careful elimination strategy".

Ardern explained that even if a community case did pop up, it wouldn't necessarily mean that alert level 1 was out of the question. 

"It all depends very much on the context. If we're seeing them within identified contacts - people who we've already asked to be isolating - then that would not necessarily stand in the way of a change of alert level. But we always keep it under advisement."

Since then, there have been no further community cases. There has also been a solid amount of testing undertaken in recent days. On Wednesday, 6448 tests were processed, with the seven-day rolling average being 7167 per day. On Tuesday, 8618 tests were processed.