Playdates and outdoor gatherings: Deputy PM Grant Robertson explains the new Auckland COVID-19 rules

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson has clarified the new alert level rules for Auckland which come into place at 11:59pm on Tuesday. 

On Monday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Auckland will remain in alert level 3 but there are several new changes. 

Ardern also revealed a roadmap for Auckland to slowly move out of the current COVID-19 restrictions.

The three-step approach will see Aucklanders gain slightly more freedoms tonight. From 11:59pm people can connect with loved ones but only outdoors. No more than two households can gather at a time and there is a maximum of 10 people. Early childhood education will also resume and people can move around the city for activities such as beach visits, hunting and lawn bowls. 

Step 2 will see retail stores open their doors, with the usual measures of wearing face masks and keeping up physical distancing. Public facilities such as pools and zoos will also open and the number of people who can meet outdoors will increase to 25. 

Step 3 will see higher risk settings such as hospitality open but there is a limit of 50 people who must be seated and separated.  

Close contact businesses like hairdressers can also open with mask use and physical distancing and gatherings will also be extended to 50 people. 

The Government also signalled schools are set to open on October 18 but a final decision will be made closer to the time. 

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson explained the outdoor gathering rules more on The AM Show on Tuesday. 

When asked whether people can go inside someone's home to use the bathroom when gathering outside, Robertson said they can but it must be one person at a time. 

"Obviously we want people to stay outside. That's the whole point of this is that the public health advice that we've had is that COVID outside is a totally different thing than COVID indoors where you don't have ventilation," he said. 

"Of course, we want it to be a practical situation, I think as Dr Bloomfield said yesterday we are not expecting there to be gatherings of people in the toilet but if people need to go no doubt they will manage that situation.

"The critical element here is that the focus of these gatherings is outdoors. That allows us to give Aucklanders a little bit of respite but not compromise our public health approach."

Robertson said it's "generally a good rule" to have one person use the bathroom at a time - regardless of the COVID-19 situation. 

He also elaborated on the rules for outdoor playdates saying again a practical approach needs to be taken. 

"Obviously parents will be close at hand, they will be working to ensure their kids are interacting within that bubble but we do need to be practical about looking after kids in the playground.

Robertson said it would be very hard to keep children from physically interacting on playdates but said parents should wear masks, physically distance where possible and be careful and practical. 

"We do still want people to keep up with the rules of physical distancing, of wearing a mask and also making sure that you take the fact that you have this opportunity now seriously and stick to those two bubbles." 

Cabinet will review each step weekly before confirming whether Auckland will move to the next level. 

On Monday Ardern said the phasing amounts to a "careful and methodical transition plan" for Auckland.

"At the end of these steps, we will then move to a national framework that reflects a more highly vaccinated population, allowing us the ability to deal with riskier settings such as large-scale events with the use of vaccine certificates.

"Cabinet also agreed the rest of New Zealand will remain at alert level 2 to continue to support Auckland to do the heavy lifting – but the 100 limit cap on hospitality venues is removed. The requirement for customers to be seated and separated with physical distancing remains in place."