A business leader is calling for a change in criteria to who can cross Auckland's regional borders after the Prime Minister announced the gates to the super city would remain restricted even at level 2.
Cabinet will not consider the removal of Auckland's northern and southern borders when it meets to discuss the possibility of moving from alert level 3 to level 2 Covid-19 restrictions on Monday, Jacinda Ardern said.
"At the moment, we do have control of the outbreak, but we do have an outbreak, so we will continue to assess the role of the boundary as we go," she said. "But at the moment it is not one of the things I expect to be lifted on Monday."
Nineteen more Delta coronavirus cases were announced as being in the community today, 18 of which are in Auckland and the other is a child who attended Mangatangi School and had been isolating.
After the announcement, Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) chief executive Brett O'Riley told the Herald if the border restrictions were to remain the government should consider "expanding the criteria for who can cross the border".
"I think a lot of it comes down to the detail of how the border is going to be managed," he said, noting the EMA has been involved in border management and supported testing from the start.
"I can understand why the Prime Minister might be suggesting that, some kind of trade-off where if we go to alert level 2 you maintain the border. But what we would need is for a change in the criteria of who can cross the border."
O'Riley said Aotearoa was now at the point where it is critical for many businesses' survival to get people in and out of Auckland.
"And yes there have been exemptions, but they've been pretty hard to come by," he added.
"We've had firms like [building design company] Summit Homes who have got 80 per cent of the work in Auckland and 80 per cent of the workforce living in Waikato."
O'Riley said Auckland's several lockdowns have shown many people work in the city but don't live there.
He would support a continued managed border at level 2, which also required people to show evidence of a recent negative Covid-19 test, if some restrictions were loosened.
"Because it's obviously a public health safeguard, but it would have to be with expanding the criteria for who can cross the border ... a lot of businesses wouldn't be able to operate at alert level 2 without their staff being able to cross the border."
O'Riley said he didn't think it was an unreasonable expectation as more Kiwis get vaccinated.
When asked if the border would remain in place until vaccine rates had climbed above 90 per cent, Ardern said that was not a "connection" being made by the Government.
However, high vaccine rates were the key to lifting all restrictions, she said.
"We want to get to a position when we can have movement again," Ardern said. "It causes a huge amount of work for managing the boundary safely and also a huge amount of stress and anxiety for those who are separated.
"Of course, we want to get that movement back, but it needs to be safe."
O'Riley said it will be challenging for businesses if Auckland is at alert level 2 but still managing a level 4 border.
"That's going to get really untidy. It's been challenging enough in alert level 3, but in 2 it'll become really difficult."
The border restrictions, which were also causing damage to regional economies such as Rotorua, were another incentive for getting vaccinated, he said.