New Zealand relaxes covid restrictions after ‘remarkable’ virus fight

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ... "Now under level 1 you can, if you want, go back to your place of work." Image: Dom Thomas/RNZ

By RNZ News

“Covid-free” New Zealand has moved early today to its lowest restrictions – alert level 1.

The change happened at midnight after New Zealanders had done something “remarkable” by uniting in the fight against covid-19, says Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

After praising New Zealand’s response to the virus yesterday, she revealed the country would be moving to alert level 1 from last night.

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The live announcement yesterday by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Video: RNZ News

“At level 1 we expect the continuation of recovery,” Ardern said.

She said the country was ready, now 40 days since the last recorded case of community transmission, 26 days after entering alert level 2, 17 days since a new case, and less than 24 hours since having zero active cases recorded.

Ardern said New Zealand had achieved one of the lowest rates of covid-19 per capita in the world.

“Now under level 1 you can, if you want, go back to your place of work.”

NZ borders remain closed
Ardern revealed last week that under level 1 there would be effectively no restrictions on day to day life and business, but New Zealand’s borders would remain closed.

Today she again highlighted that the measures at the border were critical to allowing the move to the looser restrictions.

“They will continue to be critical and that means applying a really critical analysis if and when we come to a position we believe another country is in a similar position to us and therefore we can safely travel between.”

Starting this week, everyone arriving in New Zealand will be tested twice during their 14-day isolation period.

The economic impact of restrictions over the almost three months had also been less than expected, and economic recovery was believed to be quicker than expected, Ardern said.

“We are not immune to what is happening in the rest of the world, but unlike the rest of the world not only have we protected New Zealanders’ health, we now have a head-start on our economic recovery.”

Still a risk of infection
She warned, however, that there was still a risk of further infection of covid-19, and that it would continue to be seen overseas.

She asked all New Zealanders to keep a record of where they had been during level 1, either by using the tracing app or keeping their own record.

“If we get one or two cases in the future – which will remain possible for some time to come due to the global situation and nature of the virus – we need to shut down those cases fast. The last thing … we want to do is move up the alert level system again.”

Ardern said businesses and organisations would continue to be encouraged to display QR codes so New Zealanders using the tracing app could use it to keep a record for themselves of where they had been and when, but manual sign-in would be no longer required.

She said the QR codes would remain voluntary for now, but the government was also looking into how it could supply them to businesses rather than having to wait for them to apply.

She said the government was keen to take advantage of flexible working but maintain strong and vibrant central business districts, so had asked the State Services Commission to release new guidance about how best to do that.

“While the job is not done, there is no denying this is a milestone, so let me finish with just a simple ‘thank you, New Zealand’.”

No active cases
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the announcement followed the news today that New Zealand had no active cases.

“Yes we have been cautious but we have not been overcautious.”

He said the ministry had not been “saving that up”.

Ardern said she did “a little dance” when she found out there are no active cases in New Zealand, and Dr Bloomfield said he allowed himself a broad smile.

He said the ministry was confident it had eliminated community transmission in New Zealand.

Cabinet’s deliberations on level 1 were brought forward a fortnight, following better-than-expected case numbers and calls from Labour’s coalition partner New Zealand First.

There would be contact tracing measures and testing and workplaces would have to keep up certain health and safety requirements.

Opposition leader ‘delighted’
Opposition National Party leader Todd Muller said today was “a day of celebration”.

He said that while he made it clear last week that the advice seemed to suggest the country could have made the move earlier, he was “delighted” by today’s decision.

“It’s a day of acknowledgement actually of the collective effort that we’ve all made to get to this point and I think all New Zealanders deserve a moment of quiet satisfaction that between us all we’ve managed to achieve this outcome,” he said.

Muller said most people would be feeling an overwhelming sense of relief at the news, and the focus now needed to be on New Zealand’s economic recovery.

“Talking to businesses over the last few weeks, they have never done it so tough. There are thousands upon thousands of businesses that are holding on by their fingernails,” Muller said.

“And now, of course, with some semblance of normality from tonight, that will give them some confidence, but they’re actually going to need, in my view, a National government with a comprehensive economic recovery plan to give them the true confidence to rebuild.”

Speaking after the announcement, Trusts Arena chief executive Mark Gosling said the decision on level 1 would be good for some venues, but others would continue to struggle.

Gosling said the news was great for domestic-focused venues, but others would find it tough to operate with ongoing border restrictions.

“For a lot of the venues that rely on international content … as in international acts, so the All Blacks being able to play against Wales and venues to have concerts by international artists, none of that kind of content can happen right now.”

Gosling said there needed to be more transparency on what would happen with the borders, especially as it took months to organise international content.

  • This article is republished by the Pacific Media Centre under a partnership agreement with RNZ.
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