NZ gears up for major easing of restrictions

NZ gears up for major easing of restrictions

After setting a global example with its strategy of "going hard and going early" to win the battle against COVID-19, New Zealand will soon make a big call on whether to ease a wide range of restrictions.

NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has today outlined what an Alert Level 2 situation might look like, including a restart for businesses, gatherings indoors or outdoors for up to 100 people, the recommencement of amateur and professional sport, and domestic travel freedom.

If the NZ Cabinet decides to go ahead with the alert downgrade on Monday, hospitality venues (except nightclubs and dance venues) may also be able to reopen with a "three S's" policy - seated, separated, single-server.

The move comes now that New Zealand's total active case numbers are at 136, or slightly more than Victoria and Queensland combined; both states with larger populations than NZ. 

"In a nutshell, Level 2 is a safer normal designed to get as many people back to work as possible and the economy back up and running in a safe way, made possible only by our collective actions at Levels 4 and 3 to beat the virus and break the chain of transmission," the PM said today.

After hunkering down through a full lockdown experience at Level 4, New Zealanders are currently living with Level 3 - Restrict measures.

"On Monday, May 11, we will make a decision on whether to move, taking into consideration the best data and advice we can, recognising the impact of restrictions, and ensuring we don't put at risk all of the gains we have made," Ardern said, noting the view of the Director-General of Health would also need to be taken into account.

"There is a much higher level of individual responsibly required at Level 2 to prevent the spread of the virus.

"We will continue to act with caution and not move before it is safe to do, so entry into Level 2 could be phased, with higher risk activity occurring when there is stronger evidence it is safe to do so.

While the amount of people who can gather indoors would increase to 100, the maximum level for outdoor gatherings would actually go down from 500 to 100.

"For managed events like weddings, music events, religious services, funerals, these can be held at Level 2 when we get there, but with all the same public health guidance as with the 100-person limit," she said.

"You no longer need to stick to your bubble. You can begin seeing family and friends, but we do want you to hang onto the same principles that we are using generally in hospitality; issues around the space and hygiene and contact tracing.

"If we have large scale events held in people's home, all of that becomes harder. That is why at Level 2 we are saying that you can have friends and family over to your home but keep the numbers small."

At Level 2 playgrounds, gyms, pools, public courts, museums and markets are also permitted to reopen.

The Level 2 scenario has been summarised by the NZ Government as follows:

  • Businesses can restart for staff and customers
  • Bubbles can cease
  • Domestic travel recommences
  • Schools and early learning centres can open
  • Gatherings both indoors and outdoors are limited to 100 people
  • Public places reopen
  • Sport and recreation comes back on-stream, including professional sports competitions
  • Home gatherings must be kept small
  • Hospitality must follow the three S's seated, separated, single-server

Updated at 3:56pm AEST on 7 May 2020.

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