The Government's alert level rule change means thousands of fans could potentially attend Napier's McLean Park on Saturday afternoon for the Magpies' final Ranfurly Shield defence of the season.
But the rule change that allows for unlimited crowds under alert level 2, with one-metre distancing, won't help some Hawke's Bay events, several of which announced postponements and cancellations today.
Among the casualties are the Food and Wine Classic (FAWC), Sir Dave Dobbyn's Hawke's Bay Show, and the NZ Cider Festival, which have all been postponed until January and February.
The Mitre 10 Mega Walk, the Hastings Blossom Parade and the 2021 Central Hawke's Bay A and P Show were cancelled today.
The Government at 11.59pm on Tuesday updated its restrictions around how many people can attend events in regions currently under alert level 2. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's office today confirmed the change to Hawke's Bay Today.
There is now no cap on the number of people allowed into indoor and outdoor event venues - such as stadiums or theatres - as long as spectators and eventgoers remain a metre apart.
It's a far cry from the former rule, which only permitted 100 people per defined space, and could be the saviour for some cinema, sporting and theatrical events.
If an event is outdoors but not at an event facility — for example a concert at a park or a parade - this is still limited to 100 people.
While a crowd is now permitted, whether the public will be allowed into McLean Park on Saturday remains unclear. The Hawke's Bay Rugby Union is planning to make an announcement tomorrow around how many people it will allow into the ground.
"This is something we are currently working through. There have been some recent changes to guidelines which enable us to have a little more flexibility for attendance but does still mean we need to structure socially distanced seating, which significantly reduces the numbers of seats available," a Hawke's Bay Rugby spokesman said.
"Once we have completed this planning there is a chance that we may have a limited number of tickets available for public sale."
"There are no restrictions on the number of people that can attend an event at a venue, for example at a stadium, cinema or theatre — as long as everyone can safely stay one metre apart," the new restriction read.
"This includes indoor and outdoor event facilities, and both ticketed and non-ticketed events."
Confusion about new events rules
A Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Covid-19 Group spokesman confirmed the rule change.
"The event facility capacity limit of 100 people at alert level 2 was removed at 11.59pm on October 5, 2021.
"Under the new requirements, event facilities are able to operate with attendees seated or standing without a capacity limit, as long as physical distancing of 1m can be maintained.
"If a hospitality venue is attached to the events facility and attendees were to consume food or drink in that area, they must be seated and appropriately distanced."
Despite the rule change, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins did not appear to be briefed about the new restrictions.
During the 1pm press conference today
, he stated: "I will have to check that" when asked how many people were allowed inside stadiums.
Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said the announcement was "very positive" for some of the region's events.
"The level 2 restriction changes means we can hold our Hawke's Bay Arts Festival at Toitoi HB Arts and Events Centre for around 180 people, who can be safely distanced," she said.
"However, there is still a lot of uncertainty for many of our other major events we support and event organisers are still unsure about future events coming up in our region.
"Our community needs something to look forward to and I hope we can manage to hold our summer concerts in Hastings this year."
McLean Park in Napier has a capacity of more than 19,000. It is understood that every second row would have to be blocked off to cater for the new rule and people would have to sit a couple of seats apart.
Tasman have never won the Ranfurly Shield and are making the trip to Napier to face the Hawke's Bay Magpies - who currently hold the shield - on Saturday at 4.35pm.
Tasman fans have even chartered three flights to take them directly from Nelson to Napier for the game - with the tickets selling out in 48 hours.
More than 50 Tasman supporters will arrive on Saturday on board the Originair flights.
The wider Tasman and Marlborough region has not enjoyed a successful challenge of the shield in almost 50 years when Marlborough last won it in 1973.
Tasman Rugby Union CEO Lyndon Bray said the captain from that 1973/74 Marlborough side, Ramon Sutherland, had spoken to the players this week in an impassioned speech.
"He came across from Blenheim to Nelson and addressed the team in what was an incredibly emotional and passionate speech. It was something very special," he said.
"To bring it here would be incredible but the first thing we have to focus on is to get the job done and respect that we will be playing a bloody good side."
Magpies coach Mark Ozich said it would be great to have more fans at the game on Saturday if possible.
"Most certainly we would welcome that. Playing against Bay of Plenty and defending the shield ... there was only a few hundred people there.
"Magpies supporters are really vocal and passionate and we certainly miss that. If there is a chance that we can get a few more through the gates, that would be great."
Attendees are encouraged to wear a face covering where possible at events, but they can take them off to eat and drink.
Hope is 'in the wings', but no stability
Hawke's Bay Tourism's chief executive Hamish Saxton said it was a sign that, thankfully, hope is "in the wings".
"The Vaccination Certificate announced by the Government this week is a really positive sign that certainty could return to the events sector, particularly when combined with increased vaccination rates and the removal of a capped number of attendees for seated public events with social distancing."
Hawke's Bay Home and Garden Show organisers announced today
that they would be going ahead from October 15 to 17.
Hawke's Bay Home and Garden Show's marketing manager, Emily Shanley, said: "We are operating out of two large marquees and a Centennial Hall, so we're confident we will be able to manage crowds with strict distancing and one-way flows of foot traffic."
However, the annual Hastings Blossom Parade and the Mitre 10 Mega Walk have been cancelled because of the risks posed by a continually evolving level 2 to event planning.
The Blossom Parade, which was previously postponed until November 6, and the Mitre 10 Walk scheduled for November 7 were dependent on the region reaching alert level 1 in order to be held.
Arts Inc administrator Lyn Mackie said: "The situation with Covid-19 levels and restrictions makes it untenable for us to hold the Blossom Parade under level 2. It looks extremely unlikely that we would be in Level 1 by November."
The Mitre 10 walk is a key fundraiser for The Acorn Project Hawke's Bay, which supports young people aged 12-24 living with cancer in Hawke's Bay. In lieu of the event, owners of Scott and Ricketts Mitre 10 Mega Napier and Hastings have donated $10,000 to the cause.
The Central Hawke's Bay A&P show was to have been held in Waipukurau from November 11 to 13, but president David Poulton said the decision to cancel was made at a meeting on Tuesday night because of the continuing uncertainty, with just five weeks to go, of what sort of show could take place.
While the safety factors were the ultimate consideration, the financial factors were coming into play, with the increasing likelihood that if the show went ahead it would be without public admission.
The loss of gate income could potentially have meant running at a loss and affecting the viability of the organisation and the future of the show.
The decision completes a cancellation of all five pre-Christmas A & P shows in the eastern and lower regions of the North Island, all of which have histories dating back well over a century.
Previously cancelled were the Poverty Bay, Hawke's Bay and Wairarapa shows, which were to have been held this month, and the Manawatu and West Coast show which was to have been held in early November. The Wairarapa and Manawatū shows were also cancelled last year.
Two other A & P shows are still scheduled for Hawke's Bay in the New Year: the Wairoa A & P show is scheduled for January 14 and 15 and the Dannevirke A & P Show for February 3 to 5.
The decision to postpone FAWC's November event until January 28 to February 6, 2022, was made by the Board of Hawke's Bay Tourism after seeking consultation from hospitality, event and food and wine industries.
Hawke's Bay Tourism chief executive Hamish Saxton said: "After consulting with our members, it was decided that F.A.W.C! could have real value during late January, when visitation traditionally quietened down ahead of school starting back.
"We also hope that by January there will be further certainty and stability for the events industry as a whole."
The NZ Cider Festival 2021, which was set to take place in Hastings at the Tomoana Showgrounds on November 13, changed its Facebook details today to say it would be on February 12 instead.
Sir Dave Dobbyn's performance at Black Barn in Havelock North, which was set to take place on October 24, also has a new date of January 9.