New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has come under fire for the timing of Auckland’s alert level change, with critics saying the decision should have been announced earlier to allow restaurants and cafes to prepare for capacity crowds at the weekend.

Auckland moved to alert level 1 from midday on Friday, bringing it in line with the rest of the country, after the government declared the February outbreak to be contained.

Hours earlier the prominent restaurateur Martin Bosley tweeted that it was “utterly ludicrous” the hospitality industry had to wait until 11.30am for a decision – prompting Ardern’s partner, Clarke Gayford, to wade in.

“An inprinciple [sic] decision was decided but its [sic] all pending on final test results today,” Gayford wrote.

The opposition leader, Judith Collins, had also said the delay in the announcement was the “height of arrogance from a government that has shown itself devoid of understanding about the rigours of trying to operate a business” and that “Kiwis deserve more respect”.

Announcing the alert level change, Ardern said a preliminary decision had been made late on Thursday afternoon but cabinet held the announcement to ensure no community cases were recorded overnight.

Ardern said lifting the restrictions at midday, instead of midnight, was “unusual” for the government and reflected that it was “moving as fast as possible” after receiving up-to-date information.

“What we’re being criticised for is this assumption that we made a decision and didn’t act on it. In fact what we did was try and maximise as much as possible, the ability to move early for businesses.”

Questioned by media, Ardern also denied that Gayford had information ahead of the announcement, saying he was referencing only what had been publicly stated.

At the end of a transmission cycle with no new cases, the director general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, had now advised that he considered the outbreak contained, Ardern said.

“I know everyone in our largest city will be looking forward to a weekend of fewer restrictions with life feeling mostly back to normal, and Auckland deserves that,” she said. “Once again the city has stepped up and did what it needed to do in the face of these new community cases and for that we all say thank you. But now we need to keep working hard to maintain the position that everyone have worked so hard for.”

Auckland is preparing for an action-packed weekend with America’s Cup events, a Super Rugby Aotearoa match between the Blues and Highlanders at Eden Park on Sunday, and the Auckland Arts Festival under way until 21 March.

This content first appear on the guardian

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