Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's COVID-19 alert level decision, Friday, March 12

The hospitality industry is breathing a sigh of "relief" after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed Auckland will shift to alert level 1 at 12pm on Friday. 

Here's what you need to know:

  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed during a press conference in Auckland that the city will shift to alert level 1 at noon. 
  • Auckland has been at alert level 2 since Sunday. It means venues cannot host more than 100 people at a time and guests must be sat down, with only one server per table. 
  • The rest of New Zealand is at alert level 1, which basically means no coronavirus restrictions except for the border remaining closed. 
  • It's been 14 days since there was a community case of COVID-19 - the virus' incubation period (except for the Air NZ crew member who isn't part of the Papatoetoe cluster). 
  • Business groups have piled on the pressure. Employment and Manufacturers Association (EMA) CEO Brett O'Riley said, "I urge the Government to return Auckland to alert level 1."
  • National MPs are disappointed that the Prime Minister waited until Friday morning to share Cabinet's decision on the alert levels when they met last night. 

These live updates have finished. 

12:35pm - The organisers of Splore have announced the event is back on and will take place from March 26-28, following the announcement that Auckland has shifted to alert level 1. 

12:30pm - In the wake of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's announcement that Auckland has shifted to alert level 1, Air New Zealand is welcoming back food and beverages to its flights.

The airline has also extended its domestic flexibility policy in response to the recent changes around the country.

Customers who book or currently hold tickets for domestic flights scheduled to depart up until 11.59pm on June 30 will now be able to hold that fare in credit for rebooking until June 30 next year, or amend the date of their flight with change fees waived.

"Having recently gone through a period of elevated alert levels around the country, many of our customers had their travel plans disrupted," said Air New Zealand's chief customer and sales officer Leanne Geraghty.

"This extension will provide more options should circumstances change in the future."

The airline's full food and beverage service will be back on board from Monday.

"The decision to bring food and beverage back on board was made under guidance from the Ministry of Health. Feedback from customers has been that they really enjoy a snack and a cup of coffee or tea while flying so we're looking forward to welcoming this back," said Geraghty.

"Care is at the heart of our brand and offering food and beverage on board is very much an extension of that. Customers are of course still required to wear their mask or face covering while they are not enjoying a drink or bite to eat."

12:25pm - Auckland Transport is urging Aucklanders to keep using the COVID Tracer app despite the shift to alert level 1 from 12pm.

It's also reminded Aucklanders that face coverings are still mandatory on public transport, but there are no physical distancing requirements under alert level 1.

"We know these changes in alert levels have been unusual and stressful times once again for everyone," said Auckland Transport chief executive Shane Ellison.

"We want to say thank you to all front-line workers who have kept the city moving during these changes, as well as Aucklanders for their understanding and patience. We ask that everyone continues to be kind to each other as the city, and the country, returns to this new normal."

12:20pm - It's been announced the Auckland Rainbow Parade will be going ahead on Saturday, March 27, as a result of Auckland's shift to alert level 1.

The Auckland Rainbow Parade and Ponsonby Street Festival take place in unity and therefore a joint decision between them was made to postpone the events.

The Parade will now run from 6pm-7pm on March 27, and the Ponsonby Street Festival will continue the party running from 7pm-10pm.

"The shifting COVID alert levels have provided only a slight hiccup to the parade, but the show must go on!" said Auckland Rainbow Parade event organiser Shaughan Woodcock."

"We are thrilled to have a new date in March and we are looking forward to having a parade that is safe and enjoyable for all those participating and attending."

12:07pm - Restaurant Association CEO Marisa Bidois says the industry is "relieved" that Auckland will shift to alert level 1 at noon on Friday.

"We want to send a clear message to Kiwis that this city is very much open for business. So if you're an Aucklander, we encourage you put down your cook books and visit the fantastic eateries that are ready and waiting to serve you," she said.

"We also need our Government to come to the table and show some kindness towards those industries most hard hit by the pandemic. The constant last-minute closures and restrictions on trading put untenable financial and emotional strain on owners.

"Over the last few weeks I have personally taken calls from owners in tears of frustration, on the verge of losing everything they have worked so hard for.

"We are now seeing the fallout from a year of doing it tough, with businesses closing and people losing their livelihoods."

Bidois says the Government needs to "step up" and ensure the hospitality industry is not overlooked when allocating relief.

12:05pm - Takapuna Beach Business Association chief executive Terence Harpur says Auckland's shift to alert level 1 is "great news" for hospitality and retail operators.

As our latest spending figures show level 3, and even level 2, have been an absolute killer over the past month," he said, following the Prime Minister's announcement.

"Working from home really hits our shops, restaurants, and personal services. We now need everyone to come back to the office from Monday onwards."

Takapuna's latest Marketview weekly report revealed spending in Takapuna on hospitality and accommodation was down 74.4 percent, while spending on clothing at department stores was down 78.8 percent.

"We're again calling on people to shop locally. We're also putting a plea out to employers to think about the impact on town centres when office-based staff work from home," Harpur says.

12pm - The Prime Minister's press conference has finished and she has issued a statement about Auckland's shift to alert level 1.

The shift, she says, follows six days of Auckland being at level 2, with seven days prior to that at level 3, after 15 positive community cases emerged outside managed isolation facilities.

"Level 2 restrictions being in place until today have allowed us to get the results of day-12 testing for the last remaining contacts of case M, who are in isolation. These all came back negative overnight," Ardern said.

"There are some remaining day-12 tests but these are for individuals already in a quarantine facility. It also means we've now gone a full transmission cycle since the last exposure event where we were concerned people could have picked up the virus."

Ardern said Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has advised Cabinet he considers the outbreak contained.

"I know everyone in Auckland will be looking forward to a weekend with fewer restrictions, but we are asking that everyone keeps up the good habits that help us deal with cases if they emerge. That includes scanning in or keeping a record of everywhere you go," Ardern said.

"We each have the power to keep the country at Level 1, by continuing to follow health guidelines, including vigilant record keeping."

11:55am - On vaccines and the border, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says making people have one before entering the country could act as a barrier to Kiwis coming home who may not have access to vaccines.

11:51am - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says Aucklanders will be able to access the COVID-19 resurgence payment. You can read more about that here

11:50am - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has defended a tweet by her fiancé Clarke Gayford about the alert level settings.

Gayford was responding to a tweet by chef Martin Bosley who said he was "feeling really sorry" for Auckland hospitality businesses having to wait until 11:30am to know the Government's alert level  decision when Cabinet met on Thursday night.

"It's utterly ridiculous," he wrote.

Gayford replied: "Martin an in-principle decision was decided but it's all pending on final test results today."

Ardern said it is "not true at all" that Gayford had prior knowledge of the alert level decision and that he simply understood the process - that the Government had made an in-principle decision.

"He has not known the decision; he's known the process, which is exactly what ministers have said in the public domain."

11:45am - The Prime Minister says Cabinet's decision to shift Auckland to alert level 1 is unusual, because usually Cabinet takes a health order through to midnight.

Ardern said moving to alert level 1 is easier legally so Cabinet made the decision to move "as soon as possible".

11:43am - The Prime Minister has confirmed there are no new community cases. It gave Cabinet the confidence to shift Auckland to alert level 1 at noon. 

11:42am - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she knows "everybody in our largest city will be looking forward to a weekend with fewer restrictions", after announcing that Auckland will shift to alert level 1 at noon.

11:40am - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says while Cabinet met on Thursday night to make an in-principle decision on alert levels, the Government waited to make the announcement until Friday to make sure it had the latest COVID-19 test results. 

11:35am - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed Auckland will shift to alert level 1 at noon. 

11:30am - The National Party is urging Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern not to make Aucklanders sit through a lengthy introduction before announcing Cabinet's alert level decision. 

"Kiwis have waited a day to hear what the change in alert levels is, even though the Government made the decision yesterday. Businesses need to plan for the weekend. Don't make them sit through another lengthy intro," the party said in a tweet. 

11:25am - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will announce Cabinet's alert level decision at 11:30am in Auckland. You can watch it on Three and it will stream live on this webpage. 

App users watch here

11:15am – What has Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said about the alert level settings that could give us some clues about the decision?

Ardern said last Friday Cabinet would review the decision in a week, "with a view to moving Auckland to level 1 at the start of the weekend, if we are in a position to do so".

"We haven't said that it's the case that if we get new cases that will stop us; it all depends very much on the context," she said.  

"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. So you'll get a sense, as we're on the podium, as to whether we have any concerns."

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

11am - National MP Chris Bishop is questioning a tweet by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's partner Clarke Gayford about Cabinet's alert level decision.

Gayford was responding to a tweet by chef Martin Bosley who said he was "feeling really sorry" for Auckland hospitality businesses having to wait until 11:30am to know the Government's alert level  decision when Cabinet met on Thursday night.

"It's utterly ridiculous," he wrote.

Gayford replied: "Martin an in-principle decision was decided but it's all pending on final test results today."

Bishop described the situation as a "mess".

"Government said yesterday they've made decision about AKL level changes but we have to wait till 11.30am today. Meanwhile PM's partner is tweeting about how it's only in principle pending final test results. Nice of PM to share it with him but could she tell the country too?"

You can read more here

10:45am - ACT leader David Seymour says Aucklanders will be "livid" that Cabinet made a decision about alert levels on Thursday night but has waited until Friday to inform them.

"We know the Government decided yesterday what its decision on Auckland's alert level is, but they're leaving a third of the country's population on tenterhooks till a time that suits them," he said.

"This suggests they're oblivious to the realities of running a business; things like the logistics of ordering food, arranging staff, giving staff the opportunity to arrange their lives.

"Aucklanders have been through enough without the pantomime of the Prime Minister's endless set piece announcements where they'll be told to be kind and wash their hands before learning whether they can go out and try to earn a crust again."

Seymour is urging the Prime Minister to "take half an hour" to read and consider ACT's COVID-19 Response Plan 2.0.

ACT leader David Seymour.
ACT leader David Seymour. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

10:15am - ASB Bank analysis shows New Zealand's economic performance appears to have been "subdued" over summer. But compared to our key trading partners, our economic performance is "still a strong one". 

"Prospects for 2022 have improved in large part due to the early signs of success in global vaccinations to date and clarity around NZ's own vaccination timetable," ASB analysts say.

"From this point on, businesses should become more confident about the outlook and look to take action on employment and investment plans over the coming year."

10am - How did we get here?

Auckland was shifted to level 2 on Sunday after spending a week in level 3 lockdown. It was the second time the city had been put into lockdown this year and longer than the previous three-day lockdown just over a week prior. 

Auckland was thrust back into lockdown on February 28 after a 21-year-old MIT student, Case M, tested positive. It confused officials because while he had a sibling at Papatoetoe High School where the outbreak occurred, they had returned three negative tests. 

It turned out Case M's mum, Case N, broke lockdown rules by meeting up with the mum of another family linked to Papatoetoe High School during the previous three-day lockdown - a meeting that had not been disclosed to officials. 

Case M spooked health authorities because he ignored advice by visiting several populated places, including a gym, after getting tested. It left the Government no choice but to impose a lockdown in Auckland.

But after five days of no new community cases, Auckland was shifted to level 1 last Friday. Since then, there have been no new community cases, so the case is looking strong for the city to shift down the alert levels on Friday. 

The Ministry of Health confirmed on Wednesday that the one person remaining from the gym Case M visited was tested on Tuesday and has returned a negative test.

9:50am - Labour's David Parker has hinted Auckland will move down to alert level 1, telling The AM Show that the region's COVID-19 situation "is looking good".

"It is looking good. It is looking good," he said. "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."

Newsreader Amanda Gillies said we can read a lot into Parker's "it is looking good" comment, and Parker responded 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.

You can read more here

Government minister David Parker gave a clue about the alert level decision on The AM Show.
Government minister David Parker gave a clue about the alert level decision on The AM Show. Photo credit: File

9:45am - Employment and Manufacturers Association (EMA) CEO Brett O'Riley is urging the Government to reduce COVID-19 restrictions in Auckland to allow businesses to operate at full capacity. 

"It will be one of the biggest weekends of the year with the 36th America's Cup in the city centre and on the Hauraki Gulf, and many struggling businesses would welcome the opportunity of a bumper downtown weekend," he said. 

"With the recent alert level 3 and alert level 2 status of Auckland they just haven't had the chance to do that, and there may not be another opportunity after this weekend."

O'Riley says team New Zealand could win seven races of the 13-race series by the end of Sunday's racing, meaning this could be the only weekend for Auckland to draw the big crowds.

"This COVID-19 community outbreak appears to be under control and if that's the case businesses desperately need to get back to business as usual - being open at maximum capacity on Saturday and Sunday or even from Friday night would be a massive boost," he said. 

"As health indicators allow I urge the Government to return Auckland to alert level 1 as early as possible."