100 days closed: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern dampens hopes of early easing of COVID-19 rules for Auckland hospitality

It's looking likely Auckland hospitality businesses will have to keep their doors shut for another week - more than 100 days in lockdown. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told The AM Show on Monday that a shift to alert level 3, step 3 for Auckland - meaning bars and restaurants could open - is not looking plausible. 

"For stage 3, we've said that we consider that to be unlikely," she said.  

"Cabinet takes a continual review of the settings for any part of the country that are in those higher restrictions. But because we are so close to flipping into the new framework, and because we have had a number of examples of easing, we want to just make sure that those are bedding in, that we're seeing those case numbers continue to be under control. 

"That bodes really well for us when we see the big easing that will happen after the 29th."

With Auckland in lockdown for 96 days now, it means by the time hospitality businesses are able to open their doors, they'll have been closed up for more than 100 days. 

Next Monday, on November 29, the Government will announce what level of the new COVID Protection Framework, or 'traffic light' system, each region of New Zealand will switch into. 

"Auckland shifts, and that means basically everything reopens," Ardern said. "That's the date we've suggested to businesses they work towards. That's the thing that has certainty around it."

Auckland will shift into 'red', meaning hospitality businesses can open again with up to 100 people - but the guests must have a vaccine certificate. If hospitality businesses chose not to use vaccine passes, they must remain contactless. 

Businesses in Auckland can expect to shift into the new framework a few days after November 29, Ardern told The AM Show. 

"We've already said those areas that have low vaccination levels are likely to go in at red. It's a way that we can make sure that we're protecting people as we ease into this transition and keep control of the outbreak.

"Auckland is a different scenario though, because that has been the epicentre."

The latest Newshub-Reid Research poll found that two-thirds of Kiwis don't understand the new framework, and despite that, Ardern is considering making changes to it. 

At 'red', only 10 unvaccinated people are allowed to gather for the likes of funerals and weddings. Ardern said she's considering bringing it up to 25, to align it with the current alert level 3, step 2 settings currently in place in Auckland. 

"To make it easier for people, in Auckland at the moment it's 25, so we're just considering whether it should be brought into alignment."

Ardern doesn't believe the new traffic light system is confusing. 

"I don't necessarily expect everyone to know at this stage every single element. Yes, we need businesses to know, they're the ones running the vaccine passes. But you'll remember for the alert level system, we basically introduced it and within 48 hours we were in it," she said. 

"It's a different scenario now, we're not living it now. I do expect once people are in it they'll see it feels very familiar. There's lots about it we picked up from the alert level system. 

"The second thing I expect is actually, it will be quite simple, because if you're vaccinated and you have your pass, then actually you can go about going to hospitality, going to the gym - all the things you used to do."

But those things will still come with limitations. 

"Concerts, depending on the level that you're at," Ardern said. "There's 100 max for red because it is an area where you've got outbreaks and there are concerns. But as you move up those limits lift."

According to the New Zealand Companies Office Register, more than 26,000 businesses have disappeared in the last eight months. 

Last month the Government doubled the amount of money eligible businesses could claim from the Resurgence Support Payment, as Auckland's lockdown stretched on.