New Zealand to further ease lockdown after stemming Covid-19 spread

New Zealand businesses, including shopping malls, cinemas, cafes and gyms, will reopen on Thursday after some of the world’s toughest restrictions to stop the spread of coronavirus were relaxed on Monday.

The Pacific nation was locked up for more than a month under “level 4” restrictions which were relaxed a notch in late April. It continued to apply strict social measures to many of its citizens and businesses, thereby helping to prevent the widespread spread of the virus in the community.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said that the phased transition to “level 2” restrictions would mean that retail businesses, restaurants and other public spaces, including playgrounds, could reopen from Thursday.

Schools can open from next Monday while bars can only reopen on May 21, said Ardern. Meetings will be limited to 10 people.

“The result is that in 10 days, we will have reopened most businesses in New Zealand, and sooner than in many other countries around the world,” Ardern told a conference.

“But it fits our plan – go ahead, go early – so we can get our economy going again sooner, and so we get the economic benefit of reacting well on health.”

Companies will have to put in place a physical distance and strict hygiene measures.

AirNewZealand has announced that it will resume seven additional domestic routes when the country moves to alert level 2.

International travel, however, would not be possible because the borders will remain closed, except for the return of New Zealanders.

Rugby league to resume in June

Also on Monday, the New Zealand rugby council announced that the country’s best players will resume from June 13 with its five SuperRugbyteams that will be played for 10 weeks.

New Zealand is the first major nation to announce a restart in competition since the Covid-19 pandemic brought sport to a halt worldwide.

Prime Minister Ardern has warned that the loosening measures will be reviewed in two weeks.

The government plans to introduce a new law that would allow authorities to enforce physical distance and control gatherings of people after questions have been asked about the legality of the lock rules.

Three new windows for Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, were confirmed on Monday, the health ministry said in a statement.

The cases – two hospital nurses and one related to overseas travel – bring the total of confirmed Covid-19 infections in New Zealand to 1,147, the ministry said, adding that 93% of all confirmed and probable cases have recovered.

The government will unveil its annual budget on Thursday and warn that the country will run budget deficits for years while the debt increases far beyond previous targets due to its economic support measures.

Ardern has been pressured to loosen the lockdowns, with the main national opposition party claiming they have been held in place for too long, crippling several small businesses and hurting the economy.

Those who could not attend weddings, funerals or even visit relatives were also called on the government to ease the brakes earlier.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)