New Zealand will maintain its current lockdown settings for 12 more days.

That would mean the current settings will be in place for 14 days - or one full incubation period.

The current settings will remain until 11.59pm on August 26, but Cabinet will review the settings on August 21, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has just announced.

"There is nothing to suggest we need to move to a level 4 lockdown at this stage."

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Auckland shouldn't be at level 3 for any longer than necessary.

"But it is wise to take a bit of extra time.

"Short and sharp is best."

She said Cabinet's decision today was unanimous.

Moving Tokoroa, which has positive cases, into level 3 wasn't necessary because those cases were linked to the Auckland cluster and were isolated.

Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announcing the Government's Covid-19 alert level decision. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announcing the Government's Covid-19 alert level decision. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Ardern said it had been 53 hours since Auckland went into level 3, while the rest of NZ was in level 2.

She said the aim was to restore level 1 freedoms as quickly as possible.

Lifting restrictions now and seeing an explosion of cases later would be devastating for Auckland, and though level 3 was easier on the economy than full lockdown, she acknowledged that it would be hard on Auckland.

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In Auckland, there has been a 60 per cent reduction of travel compared with previous weeks.

The election

Ardern wouldn't be drawn on the impact of extending the alert level settings on the election date.

She added that the Electoral Commission had done planning around an election if New Zealand was at level 2.

She said there was still 48 hours - when Parliament is set to be dissolved - before she had to make a decision on moving the election date.

Ardern said reviewing settings on August 21 meant that it was possible, depending on what mass testing showed, to ease alert level settings before midnight on August 26.

At this stage she did not think the current settings would be needed beyond August 26.

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Ardern said Winston Peters was free to give his own interviews and she hadn't asked him to apologise for his comments last night about the source of the current outbreak being a breach of quarantine.

Wage subsidy

Ardern said the wage subsidy would be extended to protect jobs.

The details will be finalised, but it will be nationwide and will cover the period of time that level 3 restrictions are in place.

Ardern said the extension of the wage subsidy had expected to cost $2.6b to $3.9b, but only about $2b had been allocated so far, so there was breathing room to extend it further.

She said Auckland Transport had 44 construction sites operating, while five sites and 1200 workers continued on the City Rail Link.

"Houses continue to be built in Auckland."

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All of this is happening because of the protocols of operating safely at level 3, including social distancing at worksites, she said.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson - who took to the podium after 6pm - said a lot of New Zealanders had now used their sick leave and so extending the wage subsidy scheme would give people confidence to stay home if they were sick and got tested.

Early estimates are this extension would come in under $1 billion.

Robertson said regional boundaries didn't really work because a lot of businesses worked both inside and outside of Auckland.

"Administratively it would have also made it a lot slower to get it out the door."

The two-week timeframe was based on the impact of alert level 3, Robertson said.

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All of the other schemes, like rental support, are also being looked at.

Robertson said a lot of economic assessments didn't factor in the flow-on effects of locking down Auckland.

"We have never wavered from the view the best response is a strong health response."

Cabinet didn't consider support for Auckland Council, he said.

Robertson said "so far, so good" with operating different parts of the country in different levels and there hadn't been any specific concerns so far.

'We will change up our strategy if we need to'

After the press conference, Ardern went on radio station The Hits and said people should "stick with what everyone is doing".

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"If things are going more quickly or better, we will change up our strategy if we need to."

For businesses who thought level 3 might last for a shorter time, she understood it could be "a blow".

Having Auckland at level 3 helped put a perimeter around the current outbreak, she said.

They "never considered" level 4 as there was nothing at the moment to suggest it was needed, she said.

"Look after yourself Auckland, we will constantly update."

Auckland - and the cluster

There are 29 cases linked to the cluster in Auckland, and one more case likely linked to the cluster, the PM said earlier tonight, during her time at the podium in the Beehive.

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The 1.5 million people in Auckland were "carrying a heavy load" for the rest of the country, she said.

"If you're in Auckland, please stay at home in your bubble. Wear a face covering whenever you leave your home."

"Download and use the app and make sure you can quickly access your movements in the last 14 days in case you are contacted by contact-tracers."

"If you're unwell, get a test."

More than 30,000 tests have taken place, and 38 people are in quarantine as a precaution.

She said the outbreak had been detected "relatively early".

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The earliest case in the cluster was a worker at the Americold Coolstore in Mt Wellington who became sick on July 31.

This person may not be the earliest case, and the source of the chain of transmission has not been discovered.

She said the genome sequencing of the current outbreak is not the same as any other previous transmission, which suggests it is a new strain in New Zealand.

Ardern said the source of the infection was not "a burning ember" from a previous chain of transmission, given that the genome sequencing of this strain appears to be new.

She said again that the cluster will continue to grow, and it may be linked to more social gatherings, churches and schools.

"It is possible to contain a cluster or outbreak without having to identify its origin."

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Ardern said the extra time to test meant that it wasn't necessary to find the source of infection, and previous clusters have been closed without finding the source.

Finding the source would still be preferable, she said, and efforts would continue to try and find it.

She said clusters couldn't be easily modelled, but past clusters had reached up to 100 cases.

Why the decision was made

Ardern said moving all of the North Island to level 3 was unnecessary because all of the cases were connected, and all confirmed cases were in isolation.

But Auckland wasn't moved to level 2 given the churches and schools that positive cases had attended.

Ardern and her colleagues have been locked in a Cabinet meeting since 3pm, poring over Covid-19 data in order to come to a decision.

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Ardern and director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield delivered this evening's initial briefing.

Bloomfield said his advice was to continue the settings for 12 more days, but it was more important to have more time to see the extent of the outbreak.

"There may well still be the odd case and the odd new case in 12 days' time," he said, and the strength of the system was such that it could contact-trace and isolate cases quickly.

Bloomfield said there was no health advice from him that Cabinet didn't follow today.

He said the positive case in the Auckland Hospital was likely connected to the Americold workplace, though it hadn't been confirmed yet.

Bloomfield added 83 per cent of close contacts had been isolated within 48 hours, which was above the gold-standard of 80 per cent.

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Critical issues

Bloomfield said the critical issues in the next seven to 12 days was the pattern, geography and environments - such as indoor settings like a church service - of new cases.

Ardern added that finding the perimeter of the cluster was also being sought.

The results so far were "heartening" in terms of the limited extent of the outbreak, but she said she didn't want to get ahead of herself.

The surges in cases in Melbourne and Hong Kong were also factors in Cabinet's decision, she said.

Bloomfield said about half of the 30,000 tests had been in Auckland.

There had been no signs that a move to level 4 was necessary, such as multiple clusters on a much larger scale.

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The PM said today's decision didn't necessarily mean that, for example, Dunedin would be moved to level 3 for two weeks if new cases popped up there.

Bloomfield said earlier today there were 13 new cases of Covid-19 in the community – 12 confirmed and one probable.

All the cases announced today were "clearly linked" to the existing Auckland cluster.

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Health Minister Chris Hipkins said this was "good news".

Thirty-eight people linked to the cluster have moved into quarantine facilities.

The PM's full speech tonight:

Good afternoon.

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It has been 53 hours since we moved Auckland into Covid Alert Level 3 and the rest of New Zealand to Level 2.

This afternoon Cabinet met to receive the latest information and advice from the Ministry of Health, and to discuss next steps in our resurgence response plan – a plan with the primary purpose of restoring our Level 1 freedoms as quickly as possible.

We have made a good start on that plan.

This is what we know about the new infection in New Zealand.

We have identified 29 cases. At this stage all remain linked to one cluster centred in Auckland. 1 other case that is likely linked to the cluster is still being investigated.

We have undertaken more than 30,000 tests in the last 48 hours.

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38 people linked to the cluster are now in Government-managed quarantine as a precautionary measure.

There are signs we have found this outbreak relatively early in its life.

While the first case we identified tested positive this Tuesday, extensive testing and contact tracing has since determined that the earliest case we have found to date, was a worker at the Americold cool store in Mt Wellington who became sick on approximately the 31st of July.

This may not yet be the origin of the outbreak, but on the information we have to date, it's the earliest sign of the re-emergence of the virus.

In terms of the ongoing investigation to identify where the virus originated from, there is still no clear connection at this point.

Contact tracing and genomic testing has not found a link to the border or managed isolation and quarantine facilities at this stage.

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The sequence of the virus from the current outbreak is not the same as the sequences from community cases in our original outbreak in NZ. This suggests this is not a case of the virus being dormant or of a burning ember in our community. It appears to be new to New Zealand.

In terms of wider surveillance, since I made the announcement to move alert levels on Tuesday, we have tested more people than at any other time we have had Covid in New Zealand.

We have stock for a further 303,000 tests currently in New Zealand.

The level 3 restrictions, and the speed in which they were implemented, will have made a material difference in containing the spread of this outbreak. So will everyone's compliance with those restrictions.

Auckland travel data yesterday – the first full day of level 3 – shows a 60 per cent reduction in travel compared with the last three Thursdays – which is even less travel than at level 3 last time. Which demonstrates the incredible job Aucklanders are currently doing.

This is also what we know.

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We know the incubation period for Covid-19, and our experience of previous clusters, some of which reached more than 80 cases, means we can expect to see more cases as part of this cluster. It will grow before it slows. And it may continue to be linked to schools, churches and social gatherings as it has done to date.

We also know, based on overseas experience and our own, that it is possible to contain a cluster or outbreak without ever being able to identify its origin. What is important, is making sure that we establish the perimeter of the cluster, and stop it from growing. To do this, we do need to take into account that all-important incubation period.

And so, in keeping with our precautionary approach and NZ's philosophy of going hard and going early, today Cabinet has agreed:

To maintain our current settings for an additional 12 days – bringing us to a full two weeks in total.

Our current expectation is that by this time, the perimeter of the cluster will be identified, will be isolated, and we can move to level 2 in Auckland with confidence.

That means Auckland will remain at level 3 and New Zealand will remain at level 2, until 11.59pm on Wednesday the 26th of August.

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We will, however, review these settings on the 21st of August, we want to give about a week's time to assess how we are travelling before reviewing again.

I would characterise our approach as a 'short but precautionary hold' in an ongoing investigation that will stamp out the virus.

There is nothing to suggest we need to move to a level 4 lockdown at this stage as we do not have a number of clusters or unrelated cases.

There is nothing to suggest we need to move to a level 4 lockdown.

Cabinet also does not want Auckland to be in level 3 any longer than is needed to ensure the outbreak is managed.

Our intention is that Auckland and New Zealand will quickly move back down through alert levels if we continue on this track, but it is wise to take a bit of extra time. That extra bit of time is our best way of getting out quickly.

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As always, the best economic response is a strong health response, and short and sharp is best. Lifting restrictions now and seeing a potential explosion in cases is the worst thing we could do for Auckland and New Zealand economy.

At the same time, level 3 does allow us to continue with more activity than a full level 4 lockdown. And I do think that's important to remember.

Estimates are that the economy operates at roughly about 80 per cent at level 3 – compared to 60 per cent at level 4.

I'm mindful of the extraordinary disruption to business and the anxiety that this outbreak will be causing. As before, we will use what tools we have to protect jobs, incomes, and businesses – as well as people's health.

To provide certainty to businesses and workers, I can confirm today that Cabinet has made an in-principle decision to extend the wage subsidy scheme to support businesses and protect jobs as we undertake the public health measures required to fight this virus.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson will be working through the final details with officials and Minister Sepuloni over the weekend, but I can say that the extension to the wage subsidy will be nation-wide and will be cover for the period of time that the current level 3 restrictions remain in place.

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Minister Robertson is here and will give a more detailed explanation shortly.
I want to touch on the activity that continues in Auckland under level 3 – with the appropriate health and safety protocols in place.

Auckland Transport has 44 construction sites operating under alert level 3.
Construction continues across five sites on our largest infrastructure project – the City Rail Link – with around 1200 workers.

The Employers and Manufacturers Association has said many food service businesses that closed during level 3 last time are this time adapting and trading on a click and collect basis or delivery.

And houses continue to be built in Auckland. Kāinga Ora alone has over 150 projects with over 3000 units under construction.

All of this is happening because of the protocols on operating safely at level 3, which includes social distancing at work sites.

If you have questions over whether your business can operate, please visit the Covid-19 website or contact MBIE directly.

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As we have said from the start, our overall Covid-19 strategy remains elimination. That requires the ongoing stamping out of the virus any time it comes back.

Together, we have got rid of Covid before.

We have kept it out for 102 days, longer than any other country.

We have been world leading in our Covid response – with the result that many lives were saved and our economy was getting going faster than almost anywhere else again.

And we can do all of that again.

1.5 million New Zealanders in our biggest city are carrying a heavy load for our team of 5 million right now.

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But together, we will overcome an obstacle that we knew had the potential to come our way.

Which is why we have a plan, why we are rolling out that plan, and why we, once again, can pull together to eliminate Covid.

So here's what I ask today

If you're in Auckland, please stay at home in your bubble.

Wear a face covering whenever you leave your home.

And for the rest of New Zealand, use a face covering in places where you're close to others like on public transport.

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Download and use the app and make sure you can quickly access all your movements for the last 14 days in case you are contacted by the contact tracers.

Businesses please put up your Covid tracer QR code posters.

And everyone, wash your hands and if you're sick – stay home and get a test.
We'll be checking in again soon, but till then stay safe, kind, and well everyone.