Northlanders will be free to travel throughout the country from December 15 — if they are double vaccinated or have had a negative Covid test within the previous 72 hours — but not everybody is happy about the move.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday announced that the Auckland border would be removed on December 15 with the decision to be confirmed by Cabinet on November 29.
From December 15, people travelling out of Auckland who are fully vaccinated or test negative 72 hours before departure will be able to leave the city. It will be in place from then to January 17.
Also from December 15 Auckland and the rest of the country will move into the new traffic light system. On the northern boundary with Northland, police will work with iwi and so people there have confidence checks are in place to keep people safe.
The decision also means that Northlanders can travel to, through and from Auckland on the same date and under the same conditions.
The decision has been welcomed by some, but others say it's too early to open the border, with Northland having one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.
Northland tourism industry leader Jeroen Jongejans welcomed the move, but said it would still lead to some problems for the sector.
''We'll still be in the red light system because of our low vaccination rate. So if you are in Auckland looking at where you want to go for your three week holiday and it's a choice between a red light place, with its restrictions, or a green or amber light, with greater freedoms, what do you think many people will choose?
''It's great news that the border will end, but a red light will still have major implications for the tourism industry here. The limit of 100 people in a venue is going to be very restrictive. You have a sector that makes the majority of its income at that time of the year so while it's wonderful we will be open, I'd hope that we will be in the green or amber system before then.''
But, Jongejans said, that required far more Northlanders to be vaccinated.
Northland Chamber of Commerce head Steve Smith said the border opening was an absolute necessity for the region's business community, particularly the hospitality sector.
One of his concerns though was that it would in effect create different scenarios for vaccinated and unvaccinated people and he was worried about what that could mean for business owners in terms of enforcing the rules.
''Will they need bouncers on the door to do those checks?''
Smith said it was fantastic that the border would finally end and Aucklanders could travel to Northland and vice versa in time for Christmas.
''Not having the border is essential for businesses, and the hospitality industry particularly. Hospo has one season really to make a profit. If they missed this season the chances of many of them surviving the winter is a really big question mark.
''Many have got through so far by being smart and some have taken out new capital to finance things - often that's putting their homes up as collateral, not the business, as the banks won't take that. It's a crucial time for them.''
Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai gave the news a cautious welcome but was still digesting the ''many and varied implications''.
Mai said the red light setting was much more restrictive than Northland's current alert level 2, which could mean public events such as the Christmas parade couldn't go ahead.
The opening of the Auckland border on December 15, however, was ''a really good thing'' for Northlanders waiting to be reunited with friends and family further south.
It also meant Aucklanders keen to holiday in Northland could be welcomed back.
''But I'm also hearing from iwi leaders that this exposes already vulnerable communities to a Covid risk that's currently controlled. There are a lot of permutations that have to be considered, and a lot of detail yet to be finalised — so we'll be trying to have input into any future decisions,'' Mai said.
Kaipara Mayor Jason Smith was delighted the border would end and said his district - and wider Northland - would be open up for business.
''Now we have some certainty and from December 15 we will go into the traffic light system - the Covid Protection Framework - and we don't have to reach the 90 per cent (double vaccination) rate. Covid is coming here and now it's about personal responsibility,'' he said.
''It's now up to everybody individually to decide how they want to fit into that system, because what's going to happen is there won't be the hard border, but heaps of traffic cops will be on the roads pulling everybody over to check (that they are double vaccinated or have had a negative test) and anybody who is caught out will have the book thrown at them. It's up to everybody to make those personal choices.''
He said Mangawhai in particular would be heaving from an influx of visitors over Christmas, with the town swelling from about 2000 people to 12,000.
Explore Group, which operates Fullers GreatSights and Explore cruises in the Bay of Islands, is also looking forward to the return of Aucklanders, with managing director William Goodfellow saying it couldn't happen soon enough.
''We completely acknowledge the health risks have to be worked through, but from an industry perspective it's somewhat suffocating. We need people to come from Auckland to Northland.''
Duke of Marlborough co-owner Riki Kinnaird - who has been calling on the government to set a date for Auckland's reopening - said he was ''gutted'' by details of the traffic light system due to be rolled out from December 15.
Under the red setting it appeared the Duke would be limited to 100 seats, well below capacity.
Like any Northland hospitality business the Duke had to make enough money during the summer peak to get through winter, he said.
It was already a long drive in summer for Aucklanders who, faced by the prospect of delays at the border, would choose to go south instead.
Kinnaird feared the combined impact of reduced capacity and barriers to travel would mean the North missed out on the rebound that marked the end of previous lockdowns.
''It's a real kick in the guts, we're all doing the right things but people will go elsewhere. It means blood on the walls for some hospitality operators, especially the smaller mum-and-dad businesses.''
Tai Tokerau Border Control leader Hone Harawira said the decision will have devastating consequences for the people of Tai Tokerau, which would go through a 'summer of hell'.
''Tai Tokerau Māori live in some of the most under-invested and deprived communities in NZ. Housing standards are poor and state housing waiting lists are long. Poverty and unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse and violence and suicide were already at excessively high levels before Covid. Today those indicators are even higher as whānau struggle with the frustration of even greater levels of hardship.''
He said Covid cases are climbing daily, and government's refusal to allow Māori Health Providers access to critical medical data, means whānau, hapū and iwi are facing a summer from hell as frustrated Aucklanders come rollicking through Tai Tokerau.
''Government's offer of 'spot checks' by the police is an offer not worth considering. Spot checks have been a failure in the past and they will be a failure here as well. Tai Tokerau Border Control will be working with local authorities, health authorities, police and most importantly iwi, to try to limit the damage that open roads will mean to communities totally unprepared for the flood of visitors being released into the north.''
There were four new cases in Northland yesterday; one in Kaitaia, two in Dargaville, and one unlinked case in Whangārei who was to be interviewed yesterday. One of these cases is not included in the overall case numbers today and will be added to the tally tomorrow.
Interviews are ongoing and any new locations of interest will be added to the Ministry of Health's website. One person remains in Whangārei Hospital in a stable condition.
There were 902 swabs taken throughout Northland on Tuesday.
Testing locations in Northland can be found on the Northland DHB website.
There were also 1,041 people vaccinated in Northland on Tuesday. Vaccination centres open in Northland today can be found on the Northland DHB website.