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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has defended her Government's extension of the Auckland lockdown to protect people's health, as the business sector warns of closures and job losses.
Ardern's comments come as the National Party say they and the public are being left in the dark over specific health information that formed the basis for the lockdown extension.
The hospitality sector say many bars and restaurants won't reopen as they struggle to cope with the four-day extension to the Auckland level-3 lockdown.
A reprieve from level 3 won't come for Aucklanders until 11.59pm Sunday, and they will then have to wait another week before they can have social gatherings of more than 10 people.
Ardern said more time was needed at alert level 3 to have greater confidence about the perimeter of the current outbreak, which now includes New Zealand's largest cluster.
"It's all on Covid," Ardern told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking today, when he asked if it was fair to suggest the extended lockdown was all on her and the Government.
"When I look around the world, every other country is having similar experiences, battling Covid or dealing with a resurgence. We are not alone in that."
Asked whether decision-making needed to be more apolitical, she said the independent health advice was comprehensive. "We have the job of making sure we constantly weigh up the economic impact. Our view is a strong scientific, health view is the best way to support our economy."
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When asked by Hosking whether the border had leaked, she said authorities were still hunting what had caused the Auckland cluster outbreak, including comprehensive testing of people at the border.
She was not going to make the assumption it came through the border.
"We will keep hunting. You are probably better to ask scientists for their reckons rather than mine.
"We have tested almost all our border workers and have not found it. We have tested our quarantine workers and have not found it. We have even done the genome sequencing of people who have been positive in our facilities and as yet have not been able to match it to what we have seen in this cluster. We have tested our ports and not been able to find it."
She acknowledged workers at the border were previously not being as comprehensively tested as the Government had wanted.
She said there was no push-back in Cabinet to the lockdown decision yesterday. "There was a little bit of discussion around what we might learn in the coming week, but no. There was a consensus view on what we wanted to do. What we have all agreed is our constant approach needs to be to manage and stamp out cases with as few restrictions as we can. That needs to be our ongoing goal."
She was not embarrassed about the recent High Court decision which found the first nine days of the first lockdown were unlawful. She said the court had found the Government had good grounds to protect Kiwis' health. "I found it a balanced judgment in the end."
National leader Judith Collins told Hosking that her health spokesman, Dr Shane Reti, had not been consulted about yesterday's decision after Ardern suggested Health Minister Chris Hipkins had been having "good, solid, frequent engagement" with the Opposition.
"The Prime Minister may wish a lot of things to happen but delivery is not a strong point."
She said the National Party had received no briefing. "We didn't have any of the health information. She needs to front up with that information and allow the public to see on what basis she's made that decision."
She said there was no way the border wasn't going to leak after the "absolute mess" of testing disorganisation was revealed.
Public health experts welcomed the four-day extension of level 3 in Auckland - from 11.59pm Wednesday until 11.59pm Sunday - and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said it was disappointing but understandable.
But the Auckland Business Chamber said some businesses will fall over.
"There will be a personal toll on people's wellbeing and mental resilience, not just jobs and business continuity," chamber chief executive Michael Barnett said.
Marisa Bidois, chief executive of the Restaurant Association, said they were currently looking at closure rates of between 10 and 12 per cent of all hospitality businesses as a result of the restrictions.
"We're looking for the quickest possible return to level 1 trading but we had expected the
Government might extend the level 3 period within Auckland until Friday. The closure for
another full weekend, which are key trading days for hospitality, is another blow.
"Keeping the rest of the country at level 2, also seems an unnecessary measure given where the current clusters are.
"Our businesses are crying out for help and yet we're still being denied targeted support."
From Monday, August 31, the whole country including Auckland will be at level 2 but it will be phased in for Auckland.
Auckland workplaces and schools can open under normal level 2 conditions, but bars and restaurants will have to keep groups to no more than 10 people and abide by the "seated, separated, single server". Dance floors at clubs will have to remain empty.
Auckland parties and church gatherings will also be restricted to 10 people, but funerals and tangi will be allowed up to 50 people.
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The rest of the country will continue under normal level 2 rules, including the 100-person limit on gatherings.
These alert level settings will remain in place for at least one week, with Cabinet reviewing them on Sunday, September 6.
Ardern said this timeline might still be altered if testing in the next week showed an explosion of cases.
Meanwhile, the spread of Covid-19 on a bus has pushed the Government to require face masks at levels 2, 3 and 4 to be worn on buses, planes, trains, ferries and Ubers.
The details are still being worked through but it will come into force on Monday.
Ardern said Cabinet had decided against moving the rest of New Zealand to level 1 because checking if people leaving Auckland were travelling to a large gathering was "just not workable".
Asked about extra targeted financial assistance for Auckland, Ardern said more businesses were likely to be eligible for the wage subsidy extension.
Yesterday there were nine new cases - eight confirmed and one probable - including eight connected to the South Auckland cluster and one in managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ).
There are now 101 cases in the cluster, three cases in the community still being investigated and 19 cases in MIQ, bringing the total number of active cases to 123.
The cases under investigation include the Rydges maintenance worker, a person who showed up at the North Shore ED on Friday night, and a person who returned to New Zealand in June and may have caught Covid-19 months ago.
Ardern said Cabinet's decision to extend level 3 in Auckland had followed the advice of director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
If Auckland had not gone into level 3 on August 12, the South Auckland cluster would have grown exponentially, she said.
And she warned there would still be more cases, given its "long tail".
Infections from shared bus journeys between strangers, church services and in a retail shop underscored how easy it was to catch and spread Covid-19.
Contact-tracers are still chasing up people on the bus trips that Covid-infected people travelled on.
Yesterday Vodafone NZ confirmed one of its Auckland-based staff members had tested positive, but the person was not infectious when last in the office two weeks ago.
"Therefore there is no risk of the virus having been passed on in the office," Vodafone said in an internal email to staff obtained by the Herald.
University of Canterbury Professor Michael Plank welcomed the extension of level 3 in Auckland.
"There are almost certainly still active, unidentified cases in the community with the potential to spark new outbreaks if we relax too soon."
Microbiologist and Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles said the extension was a "pragmatic decision" to be more sure of containing the cluster.
"The last thing we want is to miss some cases that then turn into further community transmission."
Ardern said she was aware that Aucklanders were paying a high price.
"If any one country knows how to bounce back, it is us. If it feels hard right now, that's because it is.
"In a world where 2020 has frankly been terrible, we are strong, we have been kind, and we are doing really well."