Northlanders can travel south of Auckland without stopping in the City of Sails for legitimate reasons under Delta level 2.
Only travel for work purposes is currently allowed under level 3 but the Government is widening the scope in terms of reasons for travel via Auckland, to and from Northland.
Travel for tourism purposes and other non-essentials will not be allowed.
Northland and the rest of New Zealand— except Auckland— will go to level 2 from 11.59pm tonight
with new rules that includes mandatory mask use in most public venues and patron limits at restaurants, bars and clubs.
A new Covid testing regime would also be introduced for MIQ staff and essential workers crossing Auckland's borders.
Schools outside Auckland can re-open from Thursday morning.
Cabinet will further review level 2 next Monday, along with Auckland's level 4 settings.
There were 20 new cases of Covid— all in Auckland— yesterday
, which brought the total number of cases in the community to 821.
Five cases from yesterday
are yet to be epidemiologically linked to the outbreak.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the change in alert levels was difficult for Northland, which would be cut off from the rest of the country. But those who needed to pass through Auckland to get elsewhere would be able to.
She said Northlanders transiting through Auckland would be asked to bring evidence of where they're going, and to move through without stopping.
Northland Mayoral Forum chairman Jason Smith has been pushing for a safe travel corridor through Auckland, including for non-work-related purposes, for a year now and predicts the arrangement is still "some time away" from becoming a reality.
"But I am confident and hopeful. The Government is listening, which is great," the Kaipara mayor said.
On the drop down in alert levels, he said: "If the risk for Northland is the same as other parts of New Zealand, we can't have Northland being blockaded from economic and social activities from other parts of the country," he said.
Police did not wish to comment on the safe corridor proposal, saying it would be inappropriate ahead of any alert level decisions.
"Anyone attempting to travel across the regional boundaries separating level 4 and level 3 areas should expect to be stopped and asked for proof of permitted travel," a spokesman said before yesterday's
announcement by Ardern.
Far North mayor John Carter said while going down to level 2 was wlecome, Northlanders still needed to be sensible and careful as the Delta variant could bounce back anytime.
"From a business perspective, we'd be working to broaden the provision for safe travel through Auckland when it's safe to do so. The last thing we need is an outbreak anywhere."
John Maurice, owner of Kaikohe's Bank Bar and Northland Hospitality NZ chairman, said a travel corridor would be excellent for the region and should be explored.
Northland's hospitality sector, he said, welcomed the opportunity to re-start their businesses again, albeit with new rules.
"There's been no income, so bars, restaurants and accommodation providers have been hurting as it was not viable for all of them to re-open under level 3," he said.
There would be a limit of 50 people at hospitality and event venues, while outdoor venues could have up to 100 people.
The old rules of customers needing to be seated and separated would continue to apply.
At private events, a record had to be kept of people attending.
At indoor public facilities, such as gyms and libraries, the same rules would apply as for supermarkets: a two-metre space would be required.
Ardern said the Delta level 2 restrictions would be hard on the hospitality industry, but it would also mean returning to level 1 sooner.
For Kylie Springford, owner of Cheers Wedding and Party Hire Whangārei, this lockdown has been particularly hard for her business due to the uncertainty around the lifting of trading restrictions, unlike level 4 last year.
She bought the business in January last year and has had to shut shop after just six weeks due to Covid.
"It's actually harder this lockdown because during the first lockdown the Government said 'you are going to be closed for a good four weeks' whereas this time it's really four to five days at a time and it's harder as a business," Springford said.
She compares her business to that of a tourism operator and said level 2 would be a big step because she could go back to doing events for up to 100 people outdoors.
Six people currently work for her but she has the flexibility to employ up to 15 staff during the festive season.
"This lockdown has been a bit of a silver lining as it is happening now instead of closer to Christmas. I hope we can keen moving down the alert levels," Springford said.
More than 134,000 Covid vaccinations had been given in Northland as of 1.55pm yesterday,
figures from the Northland District Health Board showed.
Of those, 85,099 people have received their first dose and 49,566 both doses of the vaccine.
There were 342 Covid tests done between Friday and Sunday last week.