Thousands of Aucklanders who had been deprived of greasy fries, burgers and spicy chicken for more than a month have flocked to their local fast-food joints to celebrate the easing of lockdown restrictions.
Queues began to build late Tuesday ahead of the rule change at midnight. One eager customer pitched a tent to be first in line for KFC, while cars snaked around parking lots in anticipation of a McDonald’s fix. Throughout the day, the demand did not let up, with cafes reporting serving hundreds of takeaway coffees before 9am.
The city was in a level 4 lockdown – the highest setting – for just over a month as it battled a Covid-19 outbreak. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday that it would move to level 3, allowing residents to get takeaways and to very slightly extend their household bubbles to include isolated individuals.
The New Zealand Herald reported about 80 cars in line for one McDonald’s in west Auckland just after midnight, when the restrictions lifted. It said the line was so long it was spilling onto the street and filled up the carpark.
One customer told the paper they had arrived by 11.30pm to beat the early morning masses.
“We just came for a feed,” she said.
Time in Line, an online crowdsourcing service that offers users a prediction on wait times for vaccine centres, supermarkets and Covid-19 testing sites, added three fast-food restaurants to its list, in anticipation of the demand.
While people may have been quick to line up for a greasy feast, the wait times are anything but short, as the queues of famished customers grow. Some KFC, McDonald’s and Burger King outlets are still reporting waiting times of 45 minutes or more, according to Time in Line.
Food delivery services have also reported doing a bumper trade. Speaking to Stuff, Delivereasy reported a 1000-1100%increase in orders compared to the Wednesday before lockdown began, with a particular demand for burgers.
The desperate wait for takeaways was thrown into the spotlight on Monday, after police arrested two men trying to enter Auckland with a boot-full of KFC, empty ounce bags and NZD$100,000 cash.
Meanwhile, New Zealand reported 23 new cases of coronavirus in the community on Wednesday, with all but one linked to existing cases in the current outbreak. It is a slight jump in cases, after the country reported 14 on Tuesday.
There are now 1108 cases in the outbreak. Thirteen people are in hospital, including two in intensive care. .
Auckland has reached a new milestone for vaccination, with 80% of the eligible population – 12 years and older – now vaccinated with at least one dose. For the nation, that figure is 72%, with just over 38% of the eligible population fully vaccinated.
The Covid-19 response minister, Chris Hipkins, again called on every New Zealander to get vaccinated, adding that a 90% vaccination rate would give the country one of the highest rates in the world.
Hipkins also announced the next release of around 3,000 managed isolation and quarantine rooms will be on 28 September. New Zealanders have struggled to navigate the government-controlled quarantine system, which has left tens of thousands of people stranded overseas.