Coronavirus: Jacinda Ardern addresses roadmap confusion, why each step isn't tied to vaccination rates

The Prime Minister has addressed confusion over the 'roadmap' for Auckland to ease COVID-19 restrictions while also explaining why specific vaccination targets were not tied to each step down from alert level 3.

The Government on Monday unveiled a three-step plan for Auckland to leave lockdown, beginning on Tuesday night with outdoor gatherings being allowed between two households with a maximum of ten people. People will also be able to travel within the region for exercise, sport and recreation, while early childhood education centres can reopen.

At the second step - which does not yet have a date - retail businesses and public facilities can reopen while outdoor gatherings can extend to 25 people.

At the third phase, hospitality and entertainment venues can operate and indoor gatherings are allowed for up to 50 people.

The plan has surprised and confused many Kiwis, with some unable to keep up with the fluctuating restrictions, others frustrated by the lack of a timeline for when each phase starts and a number concerned about the likelihood transmission will increase.

National Party leader Judith Collins called it "incoherent" and a "vague wishlist", ACT said "confusion reigns", while the Greens and Te Paati Māori said it put vulnerable Kiwis at risk.

Jacinda Ardern was asked on Tuesday about the confusion and whether each phase's details could have been better communicated.

"I think what we have set out and what people were looking for is the 'what's next'. So we presented the 'what next', but ultimately, the very important piece of information for Aucklanders is that they are still at level 3," Ardern replied. 

She said the new phases reflect three variations within alert level 3 and Aucklanders, for now, should focus on understanding the changes at the first step. 

"We are not asking anyone to do anything different to those things. They remain at alert level 3 because at the moment we are still working very hard to control that outbreak and of course vaccinate people."

While the roadmap released on Monday may have lacked detail, the COVID-19 website has been updated throughout Tuesday with more specificity on each phase. For example, it now lays out the types of recreational activities allowed at step one such as hunting, fishing from a boat, camping overnight and jetskiing. 

The Prime Minister did on Tuesday, however, tell Aucklanders they shouldn't be heading to any baches in the region.

The PM also warned that Auckland could have restrictions increased if the outbreak worsens.
The PM also warned that Auckland could have restrictions increased if the outbreak worsens. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Ardern said it was her job to "field the views of everyone". 

"There are competing, and always have been, desires from everyone, from those who are in the middle of restrictions, those who live outside of them, but actually the job that we have is the same and it is to keep people safe," she said.

"Yes, we have made some small changes but they are deemed by our public health experts, the ones we have relied on all along, to be the lowest-risk options to continue to support and sustain Aucklanders as they continue with what are some of the toughest restrictions in the world."

She also addressed feedback that specific vaccination targets should have been assigned to each step to incentivise people to get vaccinated.

"We have a duty to make sure we aren't just looking at crude numbers overall, that we are looking at the vaccination rates across different suburbs, across different population groups, across different ethnicities."

Ardern gave an example where the overall vaccination rate hits 90 percent - where the Government says lockdowns will no longer become as necessary they have been - but the rate amongst 15-19 year olds is below that. Moving restrictions at that point could lead to outbreaks within that demographic, Ardern said.

Variation between different ethnicities and ages is a significant issue. As of Tuesday, 489 second doses have been administered per 1000 people in the overall eligible population pool; but among Māori, that figure drops down to 318 per 1000. 

The Prime Minister said we have to be "more nuanced" than just looking at the overall rate. Officials each week will review vaccination data as well as the latest information around the current outbreak, such as the nature of new cases. 

Ardern also said there could be a situation where Auckland moves back up a step.

"We will look first and foremost at the outbreak. We will do that to consider both downward movement, but equally, if we find that people are not following the rules or we are concerned about where the outbreak is heading, we equally reserve the right to remove some of those changes as well."