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A move out of level 4 for Auckland is looking increasingly unlikely when Cabinet decides on any alert level changes this afternoon.
Tāmaki Makaurau is coming up to four weeks in a hard lockdown as it battles the ongoing Delta outbreak, and the Government has acknowledged families and businesses are struggling.
But experts are unanimous that a move to level 3 while mystery Covid infections are still popping up would fan the flames of the outbreak.
The only real question is how much longer the city needs to be locked down. Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said this morning that Cabinet would consider all the evidence this afternoon and he would not pre-empt that decision, which will be announced at 4pm.
But he promised Cabinet would lay out a very clear plan for Auckland.
New locations of interest
Two new locations of interest have been released by the Ministry of Health this morning.
• Pak'nSave Manukau, 6 Cavendish Drive, Thursday September 2.
• Chemist Warehouse Westfield Manukau, 5 Putney Way, Tuesday September 7.
Chemist Warehouse Westfield Manukau is linked to a person who has tested positive for Covid last Tuesday. They were at the chemist for three hours between 9am and 12pm that day.
The advice is to stay home and get a test immediately, as well as getting another one five days after the date of exposure.
Another visit has been reported at Pak'nSave Manukau, which is already linked to a number of visits from a Covid infected person.
People who were at the supermarket are told to monitor for any Covid symptoms for 14 days after being there. If symptoms start to show, get a test done and stay home until a result is received.
The new event is Thursday, September 2, between 11am and 12.45pm.
Mystery cases the key
Yesterday, 20 new community Covid cases were reported, all in Auckland. There were still 34 mystery cases where the person had no known link to a current cluster.
People who had Covid-19 were out in the community as late as Friday, according to the Ministry of Health.
There are currently 126 exposure events involving 91 locations of interest, including visits to Pak'nSave Manukau and the Portage Road Superette in Papatoetoe just three days ago.
Contact tracers and testers will be focusing on seven suburbs - Mt Eden, Massey, Māngere, Favona, Papatoetoe, Ōtara and Manurewa - as they try to work out where the mystery infections have come from.
Pacific health expert Dr Collin Tukuitonga and epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker both told TV1's Breakfast this morning mystery cases meant it was too soon to ease restrictions.
Those cases could easily spark up other clusters, Baker said.
But he said Auckland was near the end of the outbreak and just needed to "persist for a few more days".
Grant Robertson told the AM Show Cabinet would wait for the most up-to-date information to make its decision and promised it would lay out a very clear plan for Aucklanders.
The Government didn't believe there was widespread community transmission of the Delta variant but they wanted to know how far it went, Robertson said.
He would not put a number on how many mystery cases would make it acceptable to drop alert levels.
Even National leader Judith Collins would stay in level 4 a while longer - telling Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking if she were prime minister she would be aiming for 70-75 per cent vaccination levels as well as moving MIQ facilities out of Auckland.
But people would eventually say they had had enough, she said.
"We have to move on from this absolute fear and paralysis when it comes to living."
'Get off our arses and get vaccinated'
The experts also say Auckland's long-term future depends on vaccination rates - with one epidemiologist suggesting if we really wanted to eliminate Delta, Auckland could stay locked down until everyone had been vaccinated.
Epidemiologist Dr Rod Jackson told Mike Hosking this morning Delta "doesn't play by the old rules". The dangerous variant of the Covid-19 virus was like a forest fire in Australia - leaving a few little fires would see it flare up again.
Jackson believed most mystery infections came from people breaking the rules. In Ponsonby, where he lived, he saw people chatting a metre away from each other.
People still didn't "get it" because they didn't know anyone who had contracted Covid-19.
It would be possible to eliminate Delta by locking down the whole of Auckland until everyone was vaccinated - which could be done by November.
However Jackson did not appear to seriously think it was realistic to keep Auckland in level 4 for eight weeks.
"Trite as it sounds the way to stop this outbreak is to keep infected people away from uninfected people - it's as simple and difficult as that," he said.
"We've got to get off our arses and get vaccinated."
Others have praised the vaccination effort. Tukuitonga told Breakfast the Pacific community had been doing good work - in the Tongan community for example, more than 3000 people had got their jab in the past few days.
Families, businesses hit hard by lockdowns
Minister of Social Development and Employment Carmel Sepuloni told Breakfast the Government had made a further $10 million available to help families in Auckland who were in need.
Demand had been 40 per cent higher compared to previous lockdowns, but demand had fallen outside Auckland.
Businesses are also begging for more help, especially in Auckland. Robertson told the AM Show the resurgence support payment had been extended and while there were no changes to the wage subsidy at this stage it was being monitored.