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Ministers have a three-pronged decision on their hands when they meet at Cabinet today, with alert level restrictions in Northland, Auckland, and the Waikato set to be reviewed.
Experts say change is unlikely in Auckland and the Waikato, with cases teetering on the edge of dangerous growth rates. Northland, however, appears to have the outbreak contained and could possibly have lockdown restrictions eased, moving to level 2.
Modeller Shaun Hendy said Auckland was still "sitting on that knife edge" experts had warned of a week ago, with the crucial R rate - the average number of people infected by each new case - currently at 1.2 to 1.3.
An R rate of above one means case numbers are increasing.
Hendy said that the current high rate of vaccination meant "we can probably cope … if R is kept to about 1.3."
"If it tips up to 1.4 or if cases start to overwhelm contact tracing with the increased number of cases we are seeing it may hinder our ability to move down those steps," he said.
Sunday saw 51 new community cases announced - all in Auckland, but for four cases in the Waikato. Of the new cases, 23 were unlinked.
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7.05am: Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield; 7.15am: Papatoetoe High School principal Vaughan Couillault; 7.35am: Māori health expert Dr Rawiri Jansen
The only real option on the table for Auckland is a move to the second stage of the Government's phased lockdown exit. At step two, retail opens, but people will need to wear face masks and maintain physical distancing.
Public facilities like libraries, museums, pools and zoos are also able to open, and the number of people allowed to meet outdoors increases from 10 to 25.
But this step appears unlikely.
Fellow modeller Rodney Jones agreed that loosening restrictions in Auckland was unlikely.
His modelling had the R rate down to 1.1, which he said was encouraging.
"You want to hold the line for a while here. We need the double vaccinated numbers up," he said.
Over the weekend, the Super Saturday vaccination even saw the rate of first vaccinations in Auckland get to 89 per cent, with the national figure at 85 per cent.
But Hendy is not popping the champagne yet.
People who recently received their first dose of the vaccine - including the 39,025 who received their first dose on Saturday - will not be fully immunised until two weeks after receiving their second dose. That means that people vaccinated last week will be fully immunised in five weeks' time, at the very earliest.
Director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield urged Aucklanders to get jabbed, saying the city was just 20,360 first doses short of the 90 per cent target, as of Sunday.
"Over the past week, Auckland averaged about 4000 first doses daily so we're on track to reach that milestone this week," Bloomfield said.
Epidemiologist Michael Baker agreed loosening restrictions was unwise, saying restrictions should not be relaxed in Auckland while case numbers were increasing.
"With case numbers tracking up by every indicator you would not want to relax restrictions at the moment," Baker said, noting that vaccination rates in the Māori and Pacific communities were currently "not high enough" to seriously slow transmission.
Baker said the confusion around the alert level system, its presumed replacement the traffic light system, and the Government's new Auckland-only "step" system, made the decision difficult.
"We've got this absurd situation where Auckland is going to move to step 2 and step 3 while the rest of the country might be moving down [alert levels], this is really unnecessary.
"I would personally say scrap the step system immediately and focus on the alert level system," he said.
The Waikato is also unlikely to move alert levels - that is, unless the Government can establish links between two mystery cases there that were announced on Sunday.
Of the four Waikato cases, two were close contacts of existing cases - one was even in managed isolation when they tested positive, meaning they were unlikely to have spread the virus further.
However two of the cases - one in Hamilton, the other in Kihikihi - were mystery cases, which Hendy said would give the Government "pause".
"If they don't have good info about those cases [by Monday] I think the Waikato would be unlikely to move down an alert level," Hendy said.
"You really don't want to move out of alert level 3 when you've got unlinked cases," he said.
The Government is also set to release a new traffic light system to replace the alert level system. This will not be announced on Monday, but is likely to be soon.
Baker was fiercely critical of the new traffic light scheme, saying the Government's current Covid strategy was "very confusing".
"I find the steps thing very confusing - we've got Auckland on steps, the rest of the country on alert levels and then we're about to have the traffic light thing," Baker said.
"I think it would be an extremely bad move to move away from the framework that we've got," he said.
He said the alert level system did need some "fine tuning", but he said this did not require scrapping it altogether.
"It seems remarkable that we're not just revising the alert level system. It has a lot of intuitive logic to it," he said.
Baker had even himself submitted a revised version of the alert level system to the Government, which also used the red, amber, and green traffic light codes.
He said it was time for a national debate about what sort of Covid future we want to have and whether it looks like New South Wales, Victoria, Singapore, Queensland, or Tasmania, all of which were pursuing strategies on the spectrum from mitigation to full elimination.
Currently, the Covid strategy appears to be to pursue a suppression strategy within Auckland and an elimination strategy outside of Auckland.
"In a way, New Zealand is a microcosm of Australia, which is operating quite different strategies in parallel. That is not viable long term - it creates added costs and complexities for everyone," Baker said.