* Barry Soper: Beehive's road map for Auckland is a road to nowhere
* The 90% Project: NZ's most vulnerable region lagging behind in vaccine rollout
* Covid road map: 'Frustrated' daycare centres plead for more info before reopening
* Derek Cheng: Jacinda Ardern's gamble that puts young Māori, Pasifika on the Delta frontline
* Simon Wilson: The hard graft of lockdown vs the balderdash of Bloomberg
* Great wall of Waiheke: The Aucklanders who want their own Covid border
Aucklanders face another four to eight weeks of restrictions, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield has signalled - as the Government's Covid roadmap comes under criticism from business, opposition parties, and several high-profile health experts.
Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles says she is "kind of gutted", while National leader Judith Collins labelled the plan a "confused collection of gobbledygook" and Auckland business leader Michael Barnett says business has been "absolutely ignored" in the first step of the three-step plan.
Other experts were more optimistic.
Also today, a liquor store in Raglan has been named as a location of interest.
The Ministry of Health has revealed more exposure events and locations of interest linked to people with Covid-19.
They include a number of supermarkets and bus rides in Auckland.
The Raglan Liquor in Bow St is a location of interest.
A total of four people ae infected in Raglan, with the first case revealed on Sunday. Three more household contacts were confirmed yesterday.
The Raglan Liquor store was visited three days ago on Saturday between 5.40pm and 5.45pm.
First phase for Auckland from midnight
The first step in the easing of restrictions starts at 11.59pm tonight but Bloomfield and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have emphasised Auckland is still in level 3.
Bloomfield said restrictions would ease in the region over four to eight weeks - meaning Aucklanders could be at level 3, albeit with some more freedoms, until late November.
"I'm sure like everybody, particularly in Auckland, we're looking forward to a summer where we can enjoy freedoms and our ticket to that is vaccination, so the next four to eight weeks into early December is critical to get our vaccination rates up," said Bloomfield.
Auckland University public health expert Collin Tukuitonga told Mike Yardley on Newstalk ZB that he rated the Government's roadmap. But he added that it wasn't particularly coherent. He said it was more like a holding pattern to get vaccination rates up.
As for what was a coherent roadmap, and getting to high vaccinations, they would have a much clearer roadmap that would include dates, he said.
Currently, 79.1 per cent of New Zealanders have received at least their first dose, with 48 per cent fully vaccinated. While the country is now inching towards an 80 per cent vaccination rate - and closer to the 90 per cent mark - there are still communities and age-groups, including those within Māori and Pasifika, with low rates.
The Ministry of Health's latest vaccine data - from a week ago - showed that only 50 per cent of Māori in Auckland aged 12 to 39 had one dose, and only 17 per cent had two doses.
Asked about mass saliva testing, Tukuitonga said he had been saying that for a number of weeks now. They knew the main suburbs to target and suggested door-to-door testing using saliva and also vaccination.
As for why it hadn't happened, he said they had been told they would prioritise Māori since day one and getting Māori providers to deliver that but there was a hesitation from officials to engage them and a lack of trust there.
The three-step roadmap
Aucklanders are set for a taste of freedom from tomorrow as some Covid-19 restrictions lift after nearly 50 days of lockdown.
Ardern yesterday released a three-step "road map" to ease lockdown in Auckland, beginning with step one: Allowing two household bubbles to mix outside in groups of up to 10 people as of midnight tonight.
Aucklanders will also be able to pursue more outdoor recreational pursuits, like hunting, fishing, and exercise classes — provided bubble rules and limits are adhered to.
Settings will be reviewed weekly.
At step two, groups of up to 25 can meet and places like libraries, museums, pools and zoos can open.
At step three, gathering sizes increase to 50, and restaurants, cafes and bars can reopen. The rest of New Zealand in level 2 will stay there for the time being, though the capacity limit of 100 people at hospitality venues will be scrapped.
Aside from Bloomfield's four-eight weeks comment, Ardern gave no timeline for a shift to step two or three. She said the easing would not apply to Waikato areas just put into level 3. They would stay at level 3 for at least five days.
The Government's decision for Auckland, seen by many as deviating from its longstanding elimination strategy, was met with confusion, outrage and even optimism from health commentators and parties from across the political spectrum.
Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles says she is disappointed at yesterday's announcement. "I'm kind of gutted, I guess," Wiles told TVNZ today.
She said she had hoped this next step - learning to manage and suppress the virus - would have happened next year and not this soon.
Wiles said people needed to get used to the idea that level 1 was now out.
She wants to see vaccination mandates in schools. If a teacher is not vaccinated - they should not be working at a school, she said.
University of Auckland professor Des Gorman told The AM Show we don't know how many cases New Zealand could deal with before hospitals were at capacity. He wants to see proof that we can handle 500 people on ventilators.
Gorman said currently we have 330-odd - "we've got plenty of ventilators" - but he wants a definitive plan showing hospitals could handle those numbers.
The Malaghan Institute's Graham Le Gros says the virus will not wait for vaccination rates to go up. Providers are trying to reach the hardest-to-reach people but he wants them to move faster. He also wants antibody therapies to be brought in to help ameliorate the disease for sick people. The Government has already brought in monoclonal antibody therapy.
It was hard to model the virus' spread because "we don't actually know the underground virus".
Professor Shaun Hendy told TVNZ we needed to get used to the idea that the virus would now be in the community. "People have to be cautious."
Hendy said the chances for people to get the virus - if they were not vaccinated - were now higher. So too is the likeliness to be hospitalised if you catch Covid.
Hendy told The AM Show that he expected to see a "slow increase" in cases in the next fortnight to month. The phase change would not cause rapid growth and would help prevent super-spreading events.
Immunologist Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu said her preference would have been to see restrictions reduced only after vaccination rates were at a higher percentage.
There was still a lot of work to do in terms of getting our most vulnerable communities vaccinated - including Pacific and Māori, she told TVNZ.
Experts acknowledge cases are almost certain to rise, saying community transmission is now the new normal in New Zealand. They also warn the strategy could mean places outside of Auckland shifting back up the alert level scale, as cases spread.
But one epidemiologist suggested that New Zealand could re-eliminate Covid-19, when new vaccines are developed in the coming years.
Picnics, yes; haircuts, no
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said people could go outside and meet with another bubble - with a maximum of 10 people - but you can't get a haircut.
Auckland was not up to that phase, he told TVNZ. "Yes, we do want people to wear masks," he said.
"I really do want to thank the people of Auckland for continuing to do the heavy-lifting for the rest of New Zealand."
The rules in alert level 3 - wearing masks and social distancing - still applied if you were going outdoors to see another household.
Robertson said Auckland still needed to be in level 3. "We want to make sure we have strong restrictions in place," he said.
But what officials wanted to do, he said, was recognise the hard work that Aucklanders have done over the last few weeks. "You have been doing it tough and these are safe measures that give you a little bit of respite."
Robertson said moving to mandate vaccinations was not something the Government was looking to do.
In the case of the education sector and the possible need to mandate vaccinations among teachers, Robertson said that was something the education ministry was looking at.
Business 'absolutely ignored'
Auckland Chamber of Commerce CEO Michael Barnett says business was "absolutely ignored" in phase 1 of the road map - while the next two phases are vague with no dates of when they will happen. He wanted clear conditions under which the city would move to a next phase.
The problem was not just hospitality - businesses for the last two months had become burdened with debt. Continued uncertainty would not help them get back to business.
"Most businesses are suffering at the moment," Barnett told The AM Show.
"They were grateful for the resurgence payment but it should be every week, not every three weeks."
Low vaccination rates for Māori
Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare said they had visited a large number of Māori health providers who were going door to door already but he wasn't sure if they had enough of them.
As for suppressing the spread and why not make it mandatory, Henare said they were going "hard out" and were supporting health providers to do that, especially in south and west Auckland. The number one target was to get everyone vaccinated - sooner rather than later. The Government was continuing to push vaccination rates.
With the roadmap there was clearly a path that showed if people got vaccinated they would get to enjoy liberties and that was hoped to happen by end of October.
As for disengagement amongst Māori, Henare said they had tried all aspects of communication but they continued to come up against a wall and there just appeared to be a lack of trust from them towards institutions.
He said there were a number of employers who knew what mandating vaccines looked like. One large employer brought vaccines onto their worksite and only had a 60 to 65 per cent take up, he said.
As for reviewing the South Island's alert level, Henare said when the Prime Minister talked about weekly reviews that included the South Island.
Frustration from daycare centres
Daycare centres have expressed frustration at what they see as a lack of clarity from the Government on tomorrow's opening.
Early childcare teacher Imogen Held told TVNZ of her shock at yesterday's announcement that ECE centres could be opened again tomorrow. "My stomach dropped. I feel real fear for my colleagues."
She said she felt for her colleagues who may feel uneasy about returning to work, especially given if they are in a level-3 environment or if they had a vulnerable person within their family.
Held said there were "rogue" employers who may not be as forthcoming in sticking to the new rules - including having children in separate bubbles.
Some ECE employers made it a rule that teachers were not allowed to wear masks, for example, she said.
National: 'Collection of gobbledygook'
National Party leader Judith Collins said Ardern's road map was "certainly not a plan — it's just a confused collection of gobbledygook".
Collins said the plan gave no certainty and did "not answer the questions that New Zealanders have".
"The elimination strategy is quite clearly dead, but she hasn't replaced it with any other strategy other than to string Auckland out for another three weeks," Collins said.
But some, including Te Pūnaha Matatini modeller Professor Shaun Hendy, struck a more optimistic tone, saying restrictions on gatherings would help mitigate the spread of the virus. He said he had not been called on to model the current restrictions in detail, but his past work had looked at the effect of restricting gatherings.
"We did look at groups of 10 and that does have an effect on curbing infection and that does have an effect on curbing transmission," Hendy said.
"Alert level 2 when you have a 50-person [limit] doesn't have a huge effect — it's really when you get down to 10 that you do have an effect [on curbing transmission]," Hendy said.
But he still expected cases to rise in the interim, possibly leading to more restrictions outside Auckland.
"In that sense, it is an interim mitigation that won't lead to really rapid growth in case numbers, I still expect to see an increase in case numbers over the next couple of weeks," Hendy said. "It points to the fact that we really are looking to rely on vaccination to really control this — we have seen a shift in strategy.
"This was always going to come. Many of us were hoping that we would do it in a controlled fashion, at a time of our choosing, but this outbreak has forced us to confront that now and it does mean we are taking more risks," he said.
Hendy said the Government now needed to look at what it could do to boost vaccinations.
Te Pūnaha Matatini's Professor Michael Plank was more pessimistic, saying "community transmission of Covid-19 and ongoing measures to limit it are part of the new normal".
Epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker was optimistic about the road map, but pessimistic for the trajectory of the current outbreak.
He said the looser restrictions on gatherings would make it easier for Aucklanders to live under level 3 limits, possibly helping the city sustain tougher restrictions for longer.
"We're essentially in alert level 3 for an indefinite period," Baker said. "If we are going to sustain alert level 3 it can't be too onerous for people."
But he warned that the trajectory of the virus meant Auckland could be under restrictions for some time.
"Unfortunately we may not get out of alert level 3 for a sustained period, below that you have very few constraints of the virus."
Baker said he was concerned about the lack of a focus on equity in the road map. Auckland Māori in the 20-34 and 12-19 age groups are significantly less likely to have had a first or second dose of the Covid vaccine than the general population.
Pacific Peoples have slightly higher rates, but are still below the general rate of vaccination.
Baker had other notes of optimism too. He said that in the future, jabs that offered sterilised immunity — meaning people would not only not get sick, but would also be unable to pass the virus on — could mean New Zealand re-eliminating Covid-19.
Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins told Newstalk ZB's Heather du Plessis-Allan that New Zealand may never return to zero cases. "We have been trending in that direction for the past few weeks and I think people won't be too surprised by that."
Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said the Government should not walk away from elimination yet. "We must continue on our elimination path until vaccines are approved for and rolled out to under-12s, and high coverage is achieved for all age groups, geographic areas, and population groups," she said.
"This includes ensuring that Māori vaccine rates are high enough to protect whānau Māori."
The Act Party rubbished the Government's plan, saying it gave "no certainty and no end game".
"To summarise the Prime Minister's 'road map', Auckland will go to level 2 gradually at an unspecified timeframe. And there will be picnics," leader David Seymour said. "[She] should admit she was wrong, give us a proper plan and let Aucklanders know when the finish line is in sight."