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* Latest developments and essential information
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Cabinet Ministers will today reveal to New Zealand if the country is ready to move into alert level 2 following a meeting that will take the best part of five hours.
But it faces an increasingly pressured backdrop following a leaked email from the PM's office and, this morning, a warning from a leading epidemiologist that he wants to pause on a full move to level two, saying public complacency is a "major problem".
Ministers meet at 10.30 this morning for an extended Cabinet meeting to discuss the move. Ardern will front media with the decision at 4pm. The decision will be broadcast live on nzherald.co.nz and Newstalk ZB.
The meeting follows a leaked email from the Prime Minister's office which said ministers did not need to front to media to answer questions about the huge number of documents released on the Covid crisis.
Former MP Peter Dunne said today that email was a sign this Government was no different from any others in practising 9th floor "grubby" tactics.
While the PM's office has called the email "clumsy", Dunne told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking "that doesn't hide the fact they see themselves as bullet-proof, 'we don't need to explain, everyone loves us'."
"People have not seen [Jacinda Ardern] a control freak before... this reveals the reality. It also acknowledges the fact this is a Cabinet with some mighty weak links, probably more than average."
Today's Cabinet meeting and decision reflects how far ahead New Zealand is in combating the virus - the number of cases globally has now passed the four million mark, with 281,000 deaths. The United States and Britain have the two worst death tolls.
Overnight, the UK's Sunday Times reported that the Queen is due to withdraw from public duties for months - in what could be the longest absence of her 68-year reign.
If Cabinet decides the country is ready to come out of level 3, New Zealand could move to alert level 2 as early as Wednesday.
And if level 2 is greenlighted, one of the country's top epidemiology experts says the Government should consider making masks on public transport compulsory.
"This would give us another line of defence," Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said.
Baker supported a phased approach to level 2.
"Thinking logically, you might begin with the most controlled environments, like workplaces and schools, where risk can be minimised."
Then, once officials are sure level 2 was showing signs of success, the Government could loosen restrictions on places like bars and nightclubs, he said.
He told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking today that complacency and rule-breaking were common right now.
But people need to get back to work and get the economy moving. He just wants to make sure the public is properly on board with the requirements of level 2 - levels 3 and 4 had easier rules to follow
"It needs to be pretty clear to everyone what's involved."
Alcohol was one concern - a lot of people were gathering and socialising, and the new habits many people had learned in lockdown had gone out the window.
"I think it's critical to get everyone back to work...it's good for health, it's good for the economy.
Earlier, Baker said Cabinet has a "tough balancing act" to consider when making its decision today.
It needed to weigh up public health against the potential economic impact of extending level 3, he added.
"In many ways [from a health perspective] levels 3 and 4 were easy – people had to stay home unless they had a good reason."
But going to level 2 would be a big jump, given social restrictions would be loosened considerably, compared to the other alert levels, he said.
Levels 3 and 4 were more tightly policed, with specific requirements and restrictions; "level 2 relies on people's individual judgment".
In level 2, shops will open, people can go to bars and cafes, domestic travel is allowed and people will again be allowed to gather at events of fewer than 100 people.
Baker said this is where the risk of a second wave is most pronounced, which was why he believed people should have to wear masks on public transport and planes.
Today's decision is hugely significant from an economic and a health perspective.
Ministers, some in the Cabinet meeting room and others joining via video link, will weigh up advice from the Health Ministry and other key agencies before making the final call.
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It comes after New Zealand effectively ground to a halt almost six weeks ago when the country went into lockdown at alert level 4.
The economic impact of the lockdown has been stark – recently released Treasury documents reveal officials expect 300,000 people to be out of work in September.
Businesses, the Opposition and even Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters have all lobbied for the Government to move as fast as possible into the less restrictive level 2.
National leader Simon Bridges said tens of thousands of jobs have already been lost.
"This has gone on too long – it's time to put more trust in everyday New Zealanders and get working again."
But Ardern has been clear – New Zealand would only move to level 2 when it is safe.
"We think of ourselves as halfway down Everest. I think it is clear that no one wants to hike back up that peak," she said last week.
From a health perspective, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield has always said his advice would be based on a sustained period of low new cases, low to no community transmission and an ironclad understanding of where each case came from.
He told the Herald last week a number of cases had an unclear source, but officials were investigating.
Bloomfield will brief ministers today on his recommendation.
This comes after a week of consistently low new cases of Covid-19.
There were just 11 new cases in the past seven days. For two days there were no new cases.
Yesterday, there were just two new cases and no further Covid-19 related deaths. The Ministry of Health also revealed that 92 per cent of all Covid-19 cases have now recovered.
One option for Ardern and her Cabinet is the phasing into level 2, which she has spoken about publicly.
"Moving into level 2 is a large step, we would rather start that journey than wait back in level 3 longer than we need to, but it may be that we get advice that the higher risk elements of level 2 may need a little more time," she said last week.
This would be a similar approach to that of the Australian Government – Ardern and Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison have been sharing notes as both countries battle the pandemic.
How will Cabinet decide?
Cabinet does not vote, per se, on decisions. Rather, ministers come to an agreement regarding a decision, after hearing advice from top officials, such as director general of health Ashley Bloomfield.
What's the timeline?
Ministers will begin the meeting at 10.30am, earlier than usual, but it's understood the agenda this week is larger than normal. PM Jacinda Ardern will make the level 2 announcement at 4pm.
There will be a 1pm statement from the Ministry of Health, but no press conference.
When will the decision come into effect?
That won't be known until Ardern makes her announcement – but in the past, she has said the move could take as little as 48 hours.
But schools won't be open until the following Monday – there is also the potential for staged rollout of level 2.