By Rowan Quinn of RNZ
The Government is being urged to put the brakes on letting Aucklanders hit the shops this week, as case numbers soar.
It will confirm after its Cabinet meeting today whether to go ahead as planned and allow shops to open and increase the outdoor gathering limit to 25.
But with 319 new cases over the weekend, and more than 1000 in the past seven days, health experts fear daily numbers cases could hit 1000 a day by Christmas if the spread is allowed to escalate further.
Public Health lecturer Collin Tukuitonga said it was not the right time to ease restrictions.
"The outbreak could explode and spin out of control," he said.
Covid modeller Shaun Hendy agreed, saying the virus was outpacing the vaccinations designed to slow it down.
The gains from the roll-out were being eaten away at by the loosening of restrictions - and possibly by a lack of compliance from some lockdown-weary Aucklanders, he said.
It was possible, with fewer restrictions, for daily case numbers to keep doubling every fortnight or so, getting to four figures in December.
But modelling was difficult with so many factors and it was possible the outbreak could peak as early as two weeks' time if there were tight controls, he said.
A loosening of restrictions would mean more cases and more serious illness - there were already a record 74 people in hospital.
"We're starting to get to the point where we will be putting severe strain on hospital beds and staffing capacity so we do need to put the breaks on at this point and have a rethink or we could be facing a much worse scenario," he said.
All the experts said they understood Aucklanders were over it and that put the Government in a tricky situation.
The National Māori Pandemic group Te Rōpu Whakakaupapa Urutā co-leader Sue Crengle said the Government brought in level 3 too early and should avoid the same mistake.
"Being in lockdown is hard and so people are getting weary of it. We understand that there are those other political considerations that the Government has to take into account but we still think we need to stick to the science - just for a little bit longer," she said.
The Urutā group had wanted level 4 in place for longer, hoping to avoid more cases and a drawn out lockdown.
Māori now made up about half of all cases.
Coupled with low vaccination rates, they were now the most vulnerable to getting sick if the current controls were loosened, she said.
Just a few more weeks were needed to improve Māori immunisation, with Māori-led vaccinators catching up fast, she said.
Ministry of Health figures showed signs the system was already under strain.
The vast majority of the 2564 people currently with Covid were at home - only 401 were either in quarantine or hospital.
But the ministry said it was supporting only 816 of them to isolate at home - leaving a question mark over who was overseeing more than 1300 others.
Tukuitonga said so many self-isolating people was risky for the patients in terms of making sure everyone got good care, but also for their families who could catch the virus.
And there was the added risk that some people may not understand or follow the self isolation rules, he said.
There was some good news in the outbreak though.
Last night Counties Manukau DHB hit the 90 per cent milestone, meaning at least 90 per cent of Aucklanders - in every DHB area - had now had at least one dose of the vaccine.
Experts said if Māori rates were lifted, and restrictions stayed in place a little longer, that would allow the roll-out to have the best chance to cut cases and save lives.