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* Derek Cheng: Why Auckland could move to level 3 next week, and what to watch for
* New shipping surcharge: Kiwi consumers face higher Christmas prices
* Why Māori inequity in the Covid jab rollout could be even worse
Level 2 kicks in today for most of the country with businesses and schools test driving the new "Delta 2" rules - some claiming they were blindsided by them.
Auckland waits and watches to see when it too might be able to drop down from level 4, with encouraging new modelling and director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield saying daily case numbers and a drop in unlinked cases were encouraging signs.
Yesterday, 21 new cases were announced, taking the outbreak total to 841: 824 in Auckland and 17 Wellington.
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The total number of unlinked cases had fallen from 33 to 24 since yesterday, and a peak of about 60 several days ago. Just four of the new cases had been infected outside known contacts and were not already isolating.
"Clearly all the numbers are moving in the right direction," Bloomfield said when asked about the prospects for an alert level change in Auckland next Monday.
Many businesses around the country are celebrating the move to alert level 2 overnight.
Benny Scott, owner of Bennys Barbers in Christchurch, opened at 6am for the first haircut.
"It's a good feeling, sitting around at home for three weeks is not fun when you're just watching money going out the door and you've got people messaging you asking if they can get a haircut but you can't do anything about it," Scott said.
The store will have 10 barbers on and they are all fully booked out. The first one started at 6am and the last will finish at 9pm tonight.
"It's pretty much looking that way until Friday."
Scott said they have no issues adhering to safety protocols but the earpiece of the customers' face mask will have to be removed to cut around it, which some people might find a "bit weird", he said.
The positive trends also accompanied new modelling from Te Pūnaha Matatini, which said because of alert level 4 restrictions and contact tracing, the effective reproductive number of the Delta variant had likely been below 1 since August 23, and was now down to 0.4.
This meant, as long as all restrictions were adhered to, numbers should continue to fall, reaching single digits next week.
Provided there were no new mystery cases by then, and all were linked to known contacts, the modellers said Auckland could safely move to alert level 3 then.
However, Bloomfield reiterated more testing was needed to be sure there were no undetected strands.
On Monday more than 7000 swabs were processed, including about 5800 in Auckland. This was way up from just 2088 in Auckland on Sunday, but far below the peaks of around 20,000 earlier in the outbreak.
Health workers were trying to top up the testing numbers by going into the workplaces of essential workers.
Bloomfield said although there were still unlinked cases in the outbreak, the Government would not necessarily wait until that number was zero before it was safe to drop levels.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also confirmed she had secured deals to buy Pfizer vaccines off other countries to help meet the higher demand since the outbreak.
Ardern said she would not and could not reveal how much it paid for the new vaccines.
Ardern said 682,000 vaccines were in stock, most at sites already nationwide. Details about the purchases were being finalised and would be revealed in coming days.
Just over 60 per cent of eligible people in New Zealand have had at least one dose of the vaccine, and nearly a third are fully vaccinated.
In the rest of the country, businesses are wrestling with new rules for level 2 – which include far more extensive mask use, and limits of 50 people in indoor venues and 100 in outdoor venues. Places such as gyms and museums must have 2m spacing of people, similar to the rules for supermarkets at level 3.
There is also a new requirement for essential workers crossing Auckland's boundaries to get weekly tests.
The new rules were only revealed on Monday, when Ardern announced the rest of New Zealand would move to level 2 from 11.59pm last night.
Ardern said they were considered necessary because Delta was more transmissible than the variants that had come before it, prompting the need for a "Delta level 2".
However, the last-minute notice has blindsided some businesses – including hospitality venues which said the 50 people max rule makes it difficult for them to reopen.
Businesses anywhere in New Zealand will be able to claim the wage subsidy scheme as long as Auckland remains at level 4 or 3 – but that will stop when Auckland too drops to level 2.
National Party leader Judith Collins said the late announcement of new rules for level 2 had "blindsided businesses" and was further evidence that the Government had failed to plan for lockdowns.
Collins said those new rules should have been made clear in advance, to give businesses time to prepare for them and assess whether it was viable to open.
She said the new testing requirements for truck drivers and other workers travelling from Auckland to other regions had also taken that industry by surprise – and questioned why the Government had dragged its heels on using saliva testing more or introducing rapid antigen testing.
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said they would continue to be out and about ensuring people were complying with alert level restrictions, even at level 2.
"In particular, we recommend people scan in using the QR code or sign in everywhere they go and wear a face covering while out and about," Coster said.
Officers would take an "education-first" approach but use enforcement where necessary, he said.