The northern part of Northland will shift to alert level 3 tonight at 11.59pm, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has announced.
The restrictions will be in place through to midnight on Monday, November 8.
The level shift came after two new cases in the Taipa region couldn’t be linked to existing cases in the Delta outbreak, meaning the virus might be spreading undetected in the community.
To separate the most northern part of Northland from the rest of the regions, a boundary will run through the centre of Hokianga Harbour to the Mangamuka junction, on SH1 to the SH10 Kaeo Bridge and East Bay.
* Covid-19: Northern part of Northland to shift to alert level 3 at 11.59pm tonight
* Covid-19: 74 new cases in Delta community outbreak in Auckland and Waikato
* Covid-19: Northland ‘held to ransom’ as level 3 is extended over case’s ongoing silence
There will be a police presence at boundary locations from 11.59 Tuesday night, where they will be checking that travel is for permitted reasons only.
Police said they have the support of iwi and local communities and will continue to ensure compliance, support those in need and provide reassurance at vaccination and testing sites.
Hipkins said the boundary was in place to “minimise unnecessary disruption” to the whole region.
Below this boundary line the rest of Northland will stay at alert level 2.
Bloomfield said the boundary won’t be a “hard boundary”, but police presence should be expected.
Hipkins and Dr Ashley Bloomfield called an impromptu press conference on Tuesday evening, where it was announced the northern part of Northland’s Far North would be moving into alert level 3 restrictions for “extensive contact tracing”.
The announcement was prompted by a spate of recent cases found in Northland, of which there are currently 11 active.
Hipkins said contact tracing teams have not yet found a person-to-person link with two new cases and other cases in the region.
The positive cases have not been near any locations of interest, or other cases in Northland, and so it is unclear how they could have picked up the virus, he said.
Hipkins said there was “one or more missing links” which meant there could be undetected community transmission.
“There is no clear, or even probable source of the infection, which means there will be potentially missing links out there, potentially still infectious.”
Far North mayor John Carter said the news has caused significant anxiety in the region.
“People have been frightened by this, and it’s caused some anxiety. While it will have a negative impact on business, nevertheless it will also mean that we can ensure people are safe,” he said.
“We don’t have enough information yet so until we get more information we’ve got to play it safe for the sake of all our people, including our business people.”
Carter said the move into alert level 3 wasn’t a decision he wanted to make, but a “sensible” and “right” one nonetheless.
Whangārei mayor Sheryl Mai said she is pleased with the call to have a localised level 3 lockdown around the Far North.
“I do agree with it, and I am pleased for the whole of the region, that they looked at the geographical isolation and were able to work quickly to implement border control measures from midnight tonight,” she said.
“That’s a really relevant response, and there will be a lot of relieved people south of that border that are pleased we remain in alert level 2. But we need to be really careful, because this could happen to us as well.”
Mai urged locals to keep getting vaccinated, and to seek a test if they need to as well, with the district health board ramping up capacity to manage any surge.
“If this triggers thinking around ‘shall I, shan’t I?’, and it encourages people to do it, then that’s a good thing.”
The announcement draws further attention to Northland’s lagging vaccination rates, which currently remain lower than the rest of the New Zealand and sit at just 79 per cent for first doses.
The region has the most vaccines of any district health board in the country still to deliver before it reaches 90 per cent.