While Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Auckland will move down to alert level 3.2 and Northland moves to level 2, Waikato leaders are calling for alert levels to be loosened within Hamilton and Cambridge as soon as possible.
After Hamilton Mayor Paula Southgate wrote to the PM about the situation in her city last week, National MP for the Taupo electorate Louise Upston has also written a letter calling for Cambridge to be put into alert level 2 as soon as possible or to release health advice that justifies the town remaining at alert level 3.
Upston says the letter to the Prime Minister was a community-driven action. "I think it's fair to say the community is frustrated ... Cambridge only had three cases since October 6 and very few locations of interest. On top of that, Waipa has one of the highest vaccination rates in Waikato which means the community is highly protected.
"So if the vaccination rates are up and there aren't any new cases in Cambridge, why aren't we in level 2? I urge [the PM] to move Cambridge to alert level 2 without delay or release the health advice that states why [the town] has to stay in level 3."
Upston is fully vaccinated and says she thinks it's important to get as many people vaccinated as possible. "I encourage people to get it done soon, as it makes a difference in terms of opening up borders."
She met virtually with businesses that aren't able to open under level 3.2 such as hairdressers, physiotherapists, and people from the hospitality and tourism industry.
"They are suffering ... It's time the Government recognises the stress and challenges in our regional economies whose businesses are often dependent on Auckland for supply chains, staff, and customers."
She says there were no roadblocks or checkpoints in Cambridge to enforce the lockdown.
"The minister has publicly said policing of Waikato boundaries was difficult ... So this [lockdown] has been done on a high-trust model anyway ... It doesn't make sense that Cambridge remains at alert level 3 while people are moving freely in and out of other areas in the region at alert level 2."
Another point that Upston raises in her letter to the PM is the public release of the date the current alert levels will be reviewed for Waikato.
"Nothing was said about it at the press conference and a lot of people would have thought that [the settings] will be reviewed after one week. I only found out that the review will take place on the 15th because [Hamilton East MP] Jamie Strange shared this date on his Facebook page. This is not an appropriate way [for the PM] to share information with the public.
"And why is it two weeks this time? The rules are inconsistent and confusing, which causes stress and frustration [within the community]."
Upston says urgent clarity and honesty from the Government is needed so that businesses, communities, and schools can plan a little further ahead than just one week at a time. "Our regions cannot wait for the new traffic light system and an eventual vaccine certificate. Those on the brink need a boost right now."
She says she was notified that the PM received her letter, but hasn't replied yet. "But I do expect an answer. This is only respectful and the people want certainty."
Waipa Mayor Jim Mylchreest was aware of the letter and is fully on board with Upston's message. "I am supportive of not only Cambridge but also Waipa and the rest of Waikato to move down alert levels."
He says that although there were community cases in Waipa and Waikato, the numbers have declined. "We only have a few cases but they are quite contained ... Our [vaccination rate] for first doses is up to the magic 90 per cent, so I don't see a reason why we can't come down a level."
Mylchreest says that especially with Christmas coming up, it was important to open up businesses. "We are nearly halfway through November, now retailers are making the last money for the year, so it is critical to open up as soon as possible."
He says there was not only the business side of things that calls for lowering alert levels. "People's jobs and their mental wellbeing are on the line. I know the Government has a lot to balance, but we got the vaccination rates and contained cases."
Hamilton-based National List MP David Bennett says he thinks Hamilton's situation is different to Cambridge's. "Cambridge has fewer cases, Hamilton is in a similar situation to Auckland, although with lower numbers."
However, he says he believes what Hamilton needs is a set date when the restrictions are going to be eased.
"The 90 per cent policy is unrealistic. The Government needs to [recognise] that people need more freedom of movement and flexibility ... If there was a set date [for restrictions to be eased] people might be more inclined to listen to lockdowns."
Bennett is fully vaccinated and says he believes it does make a difference. "Without the vaccine, there would be a lot more people in hospital. [It] is the best tool we have ... Lockdowns had their place and did help, [but] ... they are not gonna work long term because there is always a certain percentage of people that will not follow the rules."
He says people now had plenty of time to get vaccinated and he doesn't think holding on to restrictions will help raise the numbers. "Getting a date out there might encourage more people to get vaccinated."
He says he doesn't plan to write a letter as well because he doesn't think the PM is going to listen.
Mayor Paula Southgate wrote to the PM last week saying she did not think Hamilton should stay in level 3 once 90 per cent of its population is vaccinated. According to the current framework, nowhere else in the country will be allowed to move to the traffic light system until every DHB hits 90 per cent.
"It has frequently been pointed out to me that the focus of the daily press conferences is invariably on Auckland, and the rest of the country that remains at level 2, rather than Waikato," Southgate wrote.