Auckland's experience of level 3 will look a little different tomorrow, with 10 people from no more than two households at a time able to catch up outdoors, and travel within the Auckland region for recreation permitted. Early childhood education services also return tomorrow.
This loosening of level 3 kicks off the Government's three-stage plan to end Covid restrictions.
The Herald's deputy political editor Derek Cheng took susbcribers' questions on what life will look like in the new level 3, to clear a few things up. Check out the conversation below.
Q: We are trying to understand why 10 people must meet outside yet kindergartens can be inside? This seems very inconsistent, especially given under-12 can't be vaccinated.
A: There are different risks associated with ECE and schools. Under-12s are less likely to catch or spread the virus, and if they do catch it, they commonly don't have symptoms or only have very mild ones.
Risk in ECEs of an infected child passing the virus to another child, according to developmental paediatrician Dr Jin Russell, citing a report from Sydney, was about 2 per cent or lower. From an infected adult to a child in an ECE setting, it was 8 per cent.
Russell said this higher risk could be mitigated by having all ECE staff vaccinated, but that hasn't been signalled by the Government.
She also advised schools to open their windows to improve ventilation.
The ECE risk will be mitigated with children being kept to bubbles of 10. Some ECEs might also not even be able to take any more children, as their bubbles might already be full with the children of essential workers - parents should contact their ECEs for more information.
Schools are signalled to open from October 18, but a public health assessment will have to green light it first.
Q: Can you explain the difference between "catch-ups" and "recreation"?
A: You're allowed to have a catch up under the same rules as recreation. Outdoors, with only one other household in addition to your own, and up to a maximum of 10 people. Masks are encouraged. Step 1 is meant to allow people some respite from the prolonged lockdown, but in a low-risk way.
Q: We are Auckland City-based and have apartment accommodation booked on Waiheke Island at Labour Weekend. Are we going to be able to use this under any of the steps outlined yesterday or do we have to wait until level 2?
A: Auckland is still in level 3, so taking a holiday away on Waiheke is a no-no. You'll have to wait until level 2, and with Cabinet reviewing the "micro alert levels" weekly, there's no indication yet on when level 2 might happen for Auckland.
Q: How will police manage breaches of the <10 rule when already groups of 15-20 young adults have been meeting up and playing football at a number of fields and reserves around Auckland?
A: As Jacinda Ardern said yesterday, all the alert levels rely on the public doing the right thing. Police can't be on every corner. On the corners where they are present, they will make independent operational decisions about whether they advise, caution, warn or prosecute, based on each circumstance, and according to the severity of the breach.
Q: I have been away from home in Auckland since the beginning of lockdown with my elderly mum and helping with three grandchildren under 4. I read the rules that I can now go home but want to know if I can return if the lockdown continues and the young family need help again.
A: The Government announced rules a week ago allowing people to leave Auckland permanently. You'll need a negative Covid test 72 hours before leaving. If your situation qualifies as shared caregiving, you can return to Auckland but need to be tested in the previous seven days of entering Auckland again. If you don't qualify, you can apply for permission to enter Auckland for an approved purpose, which are decided on a case-by-case basis.
Q: Can we go from level 3 in Waikato to Auckland to visit whānau outside? What about if Waikato goes back to level while Auckland is in level 3?
A: The boundaries around Waikato are still in place because the level of outbreak there remains unknown, so you cannot travel from the Waikato into Auckland unless you have been granted permission for an approved purpose.
Q: The updated Covid-19 website indicates overnight camping is OK. Does this mean holiday home/bach can be used by existing bubbles if within the same current region/level?
A: Level 3 still applies, and under level 3, you cannot stay overnight at your bach or holiday home.
Q: When will gyms reopen?
A: Gyms won't reopen until level 2. They are high-risk environments - indoors with lots of heavy breathing.
Q: Why are fully vaccinated people in Auckland still not allowed to cross the border/being restricted? What happens to vaccinated Aucklanders at Christmas if Auckland does not reach 90 per cent [coverage] during level 3?
A: Vaccines are not 100 per cent foolproof, so vaccinated people can still carry and transmit the virus - though the chances are much lower than for unvaccinated people - and there remains a substantial risk while large portions of the population are still not vaccinated, or only partially vaccinated.
Ardern has said that level 3 may not be needed when 90 per cent of the eligible population is vaccinated. She hasn't said under what circumstances level 3 might not be needed while coverage is below 90 per cent.
Q: Given the reducing protection of the Pfizer vaccination against Covid after four to six months, when can Aucklanders expect to be offered the booster?
A: It looks increasingly likely that a booster programme will be needed, though it should also be noted that several studies overseas showing waning immunity over time all have different variables associated with their results. The Government has said they are watching the situation closely, and have enough Pfizer vaccines to start a booster programme at the start of the year if needed, probably starting with border workers and our most vulnerable.
Q: Is there any hope that after being fully vaccinated that I will be able to travel into Wellington from Auckland to visit family? If not what is the purpose then of getting vaccinated at all? Why can Tamaki break the rules and nothing happens to him?
A: At this stage you can't because there is undetected transmission in Auckland and you could inadvertently take the virus from Auckland to Wellington. Vaccinated people can still carry and transmit the virus, though the chances are much lower than for unvaccinated people, and there remains a substantial risk while large portions of the population are still not vaccinated, or only partially vaccinated.
Q: My outside deck has a roof. Is that outside or inside?
A: The measure is probably whether it is as ventilated as an outdoor environment, which is why level 3 "step 1" is considered low risk. So if you mean it has no walls but only a roof for shelter, then it is probably the same low risk as the outdoors in general.
Q: Are temples and places of worship allowed to open?
A: Still level 3, so places of worship can only open to members of the public for weddings, civil union ceremonies, funerals and tangihanga. These services are limited to 10 people, plus staff.
Q: If I want to play tennis with up to 10 people how many different bubbles are allowed? The two-household max only appears to be for meeting friends, picnics etc.?
A: You can play tennis under the same rules - up to 10 people, no more than two households, outdoors only, masks encouraged.
Q: Can I take my 8m fishing boat out with my family in the weekend and go fishing In the Hauraki Gulf?
A: You can go fishing with up to 10 people from two households.
Q: The Delta variant seems to affect more young children than earlier strains. When should we expect the children's Pfizer vaccine to be authorised for use in New Zealand?
A: Medsafe is considering the Pfizer data for children aged 5-11. Ashley Bloomfield said it will only be approved if it is considered safe and effective. There is no concrete timeline on when the processing of the application might be complete, but towards the end of the year has been mentioned.
Q: When can office workers go back to the office?
A: Level 3 still applies in Auckland so everyone should work from home if they can. Businesses that require close physical contact cannot open. All other businesses can operate, but with restrictions. This includes physical distancing, having extra hygiene measures and contactless options for ordering, pick-up, delivery and payment.
Q: If you are visiting a friend at their house (sitting outside as per the rules) are you allowed to use their bathroom if nature calls?
A: Bloomfield said you can use the bathroom as long as it doesn't create any indoor gathering. He added that he assumed people weren't all going to the toilet at the same time. Ardern added: "If you haven't got a good bladder, don't stay for long."
Q: Can we greet with a hug and sit around a park picnic bench playing a game of cards wearing masks or do we have to keep 2m distance and not share food/sports equipment/items etc.?
A: I tried to clarify this earlier today and was told that, as a general rule, hugging is discouraged because people should still be treating those outside of their household bubble as if they might have Covid. I was also told the legal orders putting the rules in place are still being worked on, and bureaucrats are still working on clarifying the rules for outdoor sports - including touch rugby etc. - so hopefully there will be more clarity later today. On distancing, the Covid website says that masks are encouraged whenever physical distancing is not possible.
Q: What does outdoor really mean - is your backyard considered outdoor, or does outdoor mean meeting outside your property?
A: Outdoors is outdoors. You can have a household over to your outside barbecue. See previous answer re: letting them pee inside...
Q: From tomorrow we can have a picnic of 10 outdoors with a max of two families. However you can partake in recreation limited to 10 people but no restriction on how many families could make up this 10. Is this correct?
A: Outdoor recreation is also limited to two households, and up to 10 people.