Who was skipping town after the latest Auckland lockdown announcements?

[Animated GIF] Hour-on-hour domestic visitor increase: this animation shows the areas with the highest increase in domestic visitor numbers each hour, from right before the latest lockdown was announced into the early hours of the morning. Starting from 11PM, we see a wave of movement out of Auckland and towards the coast.

It’s been in the news (NZHerald), multiple (NZHerald) times (Stuff).

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Using our hourly population counts, we can see how the population in Auckland changed between when the latest lockdown was announced at 9pm on Saturday 27 February 2021, and when it came into place at 6am the following morning.

We’ll look at two different groups of people — domestic visitors and local residents. In this case, domestic visitors are people who are visiting Auckland but live elsewhere in New Zealand. Local residents are people who normally live in Auckland.

What happened during the latest Alert Level 3 lockdown in Auckland?

To get a better understanding of the changes in population during the most recent lockdown, let’s first look at what would normally happen to the population in Auckland overnight. Between 9pm on Saturday 20 February and 6am on Sunday 21 February, one week before the lockdown, the domestic visitor population fell by 12%, while the local resident population fell by 2.6%.

Over the 9 hours between the lockdown being announced and the lockdown starting, the domestic visitor population fell by 29%, and the local resident population fell by 3.1%.

*The grey shaded area represents the time between when the lockdown was announced and when it came into place.
Numbers shown are based on our population index. The graph shows roughly three days either side of when the lockdown came into place. ‘Previous week’ values represent the same time of day and week, one week earlier.

A lot more domestic visitors left the city overnight compared to a normal Saturday night, but the local resident population changed by roughly the normal amount. From the graph above, we can also see that the pattern in local population is almost identical between the two weeks.

That doesn’t necessarily mean there weren’t more Aucklanders leaving than usual — at the same time as people were leaving, others were returning to the city. All we can see is the net change in population. Still, it’s evidence to suggest that a good part of the rush in traffic out of Auckland was due to people who didn’t live there to begin with.

To get the full story, we can look at the previous Alert Level 3 lockdowns in Auckland.

The first Auckland-only lockdown, back in 2020, was longer — 2 weeks, although when it was first announced it wasn’t clear how long it would last. This lockdown was announced at 9pm on Tuesday 11 August and came into place at 12pm the next day. Over that time, the domestic visitor population fell by 22% and the local population fell by 11%.

Over the same period the previous week, the domestic visitor population rose by 44.8%, while the local resident population fell by only 1.5%.

*The grey shaded area represents the time between when the lockdown was announced and when it came into place.
Numbers shown are based on our population index. The graph shows roughly three days either side of when the lockdown came into place. ‘Previous week’ values represent the same time of day and week, one week earlier.

It does seem like the local population might have been more desperate to leave Auckland the first time the city was locked back down. Fresh off the heels of the national 6-week lockdown, it’s understandable that people might not have wanted to stick around.

The domestic visitor population would normally rise a lot between 9pm and midday, with people coming into Auckland for the day — for work or travel — and leaving by night-time. Of course, when lockdown came into place these people couldn’t enter Auckland unless necessary.

The second Auckland lockdown was only 3 days long. It was announced at 9pm on Saturday 13 February and came into effect at 11:59pm on Sunday 14 February.

This time, the local population actually rose by 1.3%, while the domestic visitor population fell by a full half — 52%. The previous week, the local population stayed almost exactly the same over this period, while the domestic visitor population fell by 20%.

*The grey shaded area represents the time between when the lockdown was announced and when it came into place.
Numbers shown are based on our population index. The graph shows roughly three days either side of when the lockdown came into place. ‘Previous week’ values represent the same time of day and week, one week earlier.

The previous weekend did coincide with the Waitangi Day long weekend, so the drop-off in visitors on Sunday night was slower than usual. Because this lockdown came into place at midnight at the end of the weekend, people would have been returning home after a weekend away. Even so, looking at the numbers either side of the announcement, we see domestic visitor population numbers plummet.

Our final thoughts

Yes, people did rush out of Auckland when the lockdown was announced — but it’s likely many weren’t Aucklanders.

Domestic visitors might not have the option to stick around for lockdown — whether they have jobs to get back to, or they don’t have accommodation to hunker down in for a lockdown away from home.

It’s unsurprising that they leave the city when lockdowns are announced, and the traffic out of Auckland will probably show it. Especially for these shorter lockdowns, we’re not seeing Aucklanders fleeing their homes en masse.

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