New Zealand has thrown off the shackles of alert levels and entered the next phase of the country’s Covid response – with Auckland moving into the red level of the new traffic light system, and with it greater freedom for the vaccinated.
After almost four months of lockdown, Aucklanders are now allowed to dine at restaurants, bars and cafes, with some Auckland pubs – including Danny Doolans and HeadQuarters in the Viaduct – opening their doors at 11.59pm on Thursday.
These, and other businesses in the hospitality sector, have been mostly unable to operate under alert level restrictions since Delta plunged the city into lockdown on August 17.
Covid-19 modeller Professor Shaun Hendy says the move into the traffic light system today indicates a change in response – and only time will tell just how effective it will be.
“It’s a step into the unknown,” he told Breakfast.
“It takes us back, really, to March 2020 when the alert level system was put together.
“We’re just going to have to watch, I think, over the next few months.”
In terms of the modelling, Hendy said one positive bit of news was that over the last month, the R number had come down.
That was mostly because of the accelerated rate of vaccinations among the population, he said.
Shifting into the new system, Hendy said we could see that R number go up again – slightly – and the number of community cases “creep up” again, particularly with Christmas and summer holidays coming up.
But we could not see that either, he said.
Hendy said we would not eliminate Delta again, but we need to keep the number of Covid cases in the community as low as possible.
Hendy acknowledged that working on modelling for the new year, he said lockdowns might still be required to control outbreaks particularly heading into the winter – and subsequent flu season.
On Māori communities in some regions who continue to record low vaccination levels, Hendy warned that the opening of Auckland’s borders could mean for outbreaks of the virus in those small communities still trying to catch up on vaccination rates.
“Unfortunately, if Aucklanders travel in large numbers to those parts of the country, the virus has an opportunity to spread in under-vaccinated communities.
“That could have a particularly bad impact on Māori, who we know already have worse health outcomes from Covid-19.
“So it’s really important, I think, that Aucklanders respect iwi road blocks, for example.
“Maybe think of a staycation this summer or rethink their holiday plans, so they’re not going to take the virus into vulnerable communities.”
That applies to those who are vaccinated, he said.
“The vaccines are very good, but they’re not 100 per cent in stopping you becoming infected and passing it on to others.”
Auckland pubs re-open
As an extra incentive to get people through its doors last night, Danny Doolans offered a free plate of “bangers and mash” to the first people to turn up to the Irish pub overnight.
And HeadQuarters’ Leo Molloy shouted patrons for the first hour that the bar was open.
“Obviously we’re very pleased to be back,” Molloy told the Herald. “Fifteen weeks and two days is too long a time. It’s too long a time when you’re stuck in jail. Just stuck at home on your own watching your modest fortune draining away. It’s not a pleasant experience in my view, it’s very unnecessary.
“Anyway, despite all the impediments they’ve put in front of us, we’ve managed to adapt and we are open so we’re excited again to see people out here and actually being able to have a drink and enjoy it.”
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He said about 50 mainly younger patrons were at the bar at midnight, and he expected big numbers today. “Lunch bookings are very strong.”
About 350 people had booked in for lunch and he expected a further 300 people as walk-ins.
Molloy cited some design flaws with the scanning process, saying it could be very slow at times.
“It’s very slow, if the host phone has an impediment of any description, if it’s greasy, if the light’s not up right, if there’s a crack in the screen, it could slow you down hugely,” he told The AM Show today.
He said he had bought four devices to scan people’s vaccination passes and would buy half a dozen more to try and speed up the process.
Asked if anyone without a vaccination pass tried to get in, Molloy said only one person was turned away because they had an overseas vaccination pass which wasn’t accepted.
He said if the vaccination pass scanning process couldn’t be sped up, some businesses may be tempted to flout the rules and let people in without scanning.
Phanny Phath, operator at the Deli Bake bakery on Ponsonby Rd, was glad to be in the new setting this morning and to see customers back in the shop.
On vaccination passes, Phath said he was trying to scan everyone’s pass using the verifier app as they came in but would only sight them if he got busy.
By 7.20am, he hadn’t encountered anyone trying to enter the store without a vaccination pass yet.
Danny Doolans opened its doors to about 40 people – all wearing masks – with security guards patrolling the Viaduct in anticipation of an influx of patrons.
People were having their vaccine passes scanned by personnel, seemingly without any hiccups, before ordering drinks – with a Long Island Iced Tea the drink of choice for many.
Customers received a free glass of champagne upon entry and were treated to a performance from a live band, who are yet to settle on a name but opened their set in fitting fashion – with a rendition of Stealers Wheel’s Stuck in the Middle with You.
Inside, staff had their hands full keeping bargoers a metre apart. While many were wearing masks, it was proving a challenge keeping the face coverings on.
Longroom co-owner and director Richard Bagnall says they’re gearing up for a big day at the Ponsonby Rd bar and eatery with at least 250 booking for today alone.
Wynyard Pavilion general manager Damien McDowell says they’re fully booked all weekend. He says they’ve lost Christmas parties and local businesses aren’t back yet – but they are grateful to be opening regardless.
In the red setting, masks are required on flights, public transport, taxis, retail, public venues and recommended if leaving the house. Public facilities are allowed to open with up to 100 people and 1m distancing.
However, public venues such as hospitality and gyms are only allowed for the vaccinated. If avaccination certificate is not used hospitality must be contactless and gatherings are up to 25 people.
Most of the rest of the country – aside from parts of Northland, Bay of Plenty and the East Cape – will also be enjoying a return to certain freedoms, with gathering limits lifted for the vaccinated in orange regions.
As the hospitality industry gears up for a busy weekend, Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said 60 per cent of its members reported their businesses were not currently fully staffed.
“On average they are understaffed by just over 20 per cent. Ninety-two per cent of members recruiting for senior roles said they are finding it difficult,” Bidois said.
“Our industry has been reliant on an overseas workforce that is now unavailable to us.”
And away from the hospitality scene, Aucklanders have also wasted no time in indulging in some big-screen thrills that they’ve been denied for months.
Top of the list for movie fans was the first chance to see the new James Bond film No Time To Die.
In a nice touch, Takapuna’s Monterey Cinema opened at double-O-seven – or seven minutes past midnight.
There was capacity for 50 people – and 41 seats were filled.
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