New Zealand to ease lockdown restrictions next week

NZ to move to alert level three from next week.

New Zealand will ease its lockdown restrictions with the country to move to alert level three from next week.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the countrywide lockdown would stay at alert level four for another week before being lifted to level three from late Monday, 27 April.

Alert level three restrictions will remain for a minimum of two weeks, before the decision to move is revisited on May 11.

Ardern said the move to alert level three next week is about allowing for more economic activity to restart such as construction, manufacturing and forestry but does not allow more social activity.

“At level three we need to be even more vigilant and we must stick to the rules, continue to reduce contact and keep breaking the chain of transmission,” Arden said.

According to Ardern, the country’s COVID-19 transmission rate — the number of times each person with the virus passes it on to another — is now less than 0.5. Overseas, the average is 2.5 people.

“If we want to make sure that we are a health success story, and ensure our economy can start to operate again without the virus taking off, we need to get the next phase right.

“The worst thing we can do for our country is to yo-yo between levels, with all of the uncertainty that this would bring. We need to move with confidence. And that means following the rules.”

New Zealand introduced level four restrictions on March 25, which involved shutting down offices, schools and all non-essential services.

Under level three restrictions lockdown measures will be eased, allowing many more businesses to resume, such as construction, manufacturing and more primary industries. Retail and takeaway food services will be able operate as long as there is no physical contact with customers.

While public venues, such as libraries, museums, cinemas, food courts, gyms, pools, playgrounds, markets remain closed, business premises will be allowed to open but cannot physically interact with customers.

People must work from home unless that is not possible and physically distancing of two metres outside home (including on public transport) must be maintained, or one metre in controlled environments like schools and workplaces.

Under alert level three, workplaces can open if:

  • Workers cannot work from home, and
  • Workplaces are operating safely (including meeting public health guidance and other health and safety obligations), and
  • Customers are not allowed on premises, and
  • They can trade without contact with the public.

Other alert level three measures include:

  • People instructed to stay home in their bubble other than for essential personal movement – including to go to work, school if they have to or for local recreation.
  • Physical distancing of two metres outside home (including on public transport), or one metre in controlled environments like schools and workplaces.
  •  Bubbles must stay within their immediate household bubble but can expand this to reconnect with close family/whānau, or bring in caregivers, or support isolated people. This extended bubble should remain exclusive.
  • Schools (years 1 to 10) and Early Childhood Education centres can safely open, but will have limited capacity. Children should learn at home if possible.
  • People must work from home unless that is not possible.
  • Businesses can open premises but cannot physically interact with customers.
  • Low risk local recreation activities are allowed.
  • Public venues are closed, eg libraries, museums, cinemas, food courts, gyms, pools, playgrounds, markets.
  •  Gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed but only for wedding services, funerals and tangihanga. Physical distancing and public health measures must be maintained.
  • Healthcare services use virtual, non-contact consultations where possible.
  •  Inter-regional travel is highly limited, eg for essential workers, with limited exemptions for others.
  • People at high risk of severe illness (older people and those with existing medical conditions) are encouraged to stay at home where possible and take additional precautions when leaving home. They may choose to work.

Groundwork not done to lift lockdown, says opposition 

Opposition leader Simon Bridges said the decision for New Zealand to stay locked down in Level 4 “shows the government hasn’t done the groundwork required to have us ready”.

“The public has done a great job of self-isolating and social distancing. The entire country has made huge sacrifices to ensure the four week lockdown was effective,” Bridges said.

Bridges said New Zealand is being held back because the government has not used this time to ensure best practice of testing and tracing and the availability of PPE hasn’t been at the standard it should have been.

“The rate of testing for the first half of lockdown was low, work has only just begun on surveillance testing to confirm whether community transmission is occurring. Tracing is the biggest challenge and experts have identified major shortcomings in the methods being used by the government.

“This is a real shame as businesses will suffer further damage and that will lead to poor health outcomes as a result of the huge stress this will cause for a lot of people.

“Rapid and easily accessible testing for workers with symptoms will be essential to give small businesses the confidence needed to get back to work.

“I’m sure many Kiwis feel frustration that we still can’t do many things Australians have done through the entire lockdown period, at great cost in terms of jobs and livelihoods, with similar health outcomes.

“New Zealanders can be proud of the sacrifices they have made during this difficult time. The Government must now move as fast as it can to sort out the issues with tracing, testing and PPE so we can get our country moving again.”

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