Coronavirus: National attacks Government's 'summer of chaos' plan to reopen Auckland's borders

The Government's move to open Auckland's border next month has been met with criticism that it is "confusing" and a "mistake" to restore travel in and out of the city.

Aucklanders will be able to resume interregional travel for the first time in almost four months once the boundary restrictions lift on December 15, allowing residents to reunite with friends and whānau for Christmas.

The two-way border will be open to fully vaccinated Kiwis or those who have evidence of a negative test within 72 hours before departure. Those who are unvaccinated or untested face a $1000 fine, with police to perform spot checks at the boundary. 

Also, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed the rest of New Zealand will shift to the COVID-19 Protection Framework, the 'traffic light' system, at the same time as Auckland. The date of this will be decided on November 29. It comes as the Government on Wednesday morning revealed vaccine certificates were ready for Kiwis to download. 

National Party leader Judith Collins says this plan will "create a summer of chaos".

"Every week that goes by, Kiwis are being flooded with new, confused and contradictory messaging," she says.

"It was less than four weeks ago the Prime Minister announced the 90 percent DHB target. Now it has been abandoned. It is clear that the DHB target was only ever about buying the Government time to get its vaccine certificate sorted."

She also says if Aucklanders can travel on December 15, they should be able to travel today.

When all of New Zealand shifts to the traffic light system, areas with lower levels of vaccination will move into the 'Red' setting.

Ardern said during the announcement that the traffic light system is more fit for purpose than the alert level framework and provides greater protections for both the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

But Collins says this new rule to move certain areas into 'Red' is "yet another criteria" added to the traffic light system soon after it was announced.

"This means that areas such as Gisborne or Taupō are now potentially going into tougher restrictions, with only a hundred fully vaccinated people allowed into bars," she says.

"Every region in New Zealand will now be trying to work out if it has high enough vaccination levels and if its bars and restaurants will be open for Christmas and New Year. It is very hard to see how any of this is going to work."

Marama Davidson.
Marama Davidson. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

The Green Party says while Aucklanders have been doing it tough, it's a mistake to open the border before vulnerable communities are vaccinated and ready.

Co-leader Marama Davidson says the city is in a different position to the rest of the country given the outbreak is uncontrolled and case numbers are rising. 

"Labour is making a mistake by committing itself to opening the Auckland border before evidence is known about how the traffic light system is working and cases have stabilised," she says.

"A date for opening the border should only be agreed once vaccination levels are equitably high, the traffic light system tested and refined, and regional health systems prepared."

The party's COVID-19 response spokesperson, Dr Elizabeth Kerekere, says the Greens' approach would ensure the long-term health of communities without overwhelming local health systems.

"There is a risk of significant harm to people in under-resourced DHBs, with the combination of lower vaccination rates - especially among Māori - and more marginalised communities."

Professor Nick Wilson, from the University of Otago's department of public health, says he would've liked to see "persisting stronger attempts" to keep the outbreak contained to Auckland and stamp out cases in various parts of the North Island. This would give the country more weeks or months to get vaccinated, improve access to antiviral medicines, and make ventilation upgrades to buildings, he says.

"While it is very good that the Government is planning on some border protection for the South Island from mid-December (vaccination or a negative test result) - this is still too weak. That is, it should include other requirements such as a negative rapid antigen test result at the point of boarding a flight or ferry to the South Island," Prof Wilson says.

"Another persisting deficit is the lack of focus on rational adjustments to the international border settings. As we have argued in a recent blog - there is a strong case for limiting MIQ for those flying into Auckland to just those from very high-risk countries. For most arrivals into Auckland, the risk could be appropriately managed by testing and perhaps some period of home quarantine."

But Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has welcomed the announcement that those in the city will be able to leave soon, saying creating a hard border with checkpoints to ensure only those who are COVID-free or vaccinated could leave wouldn't be practicable. Instead, he says having spot checks and fines will give an incentive for people to comply with the rules.

"Aucklanders have managed to suppress COVID-19 spreading across New Zealand, allowing for vaccination rates to climb. As we near 90 percent national vaccination, it is time to ease those restrictions. The country cannot have a third of its population locked down long-term," Goff says.

"Opening up the boundaries reinforces the need for those around the country to get vaccinated if they haven't already done so. Those who are not vaccinated have a month to get both doses before the boundaries are lifted."