New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden on May 11 announced that malls, cinema halls, restaurants and playgrounds will be allowed to reopen after over 2 month-long strict lockdown. Arden also added that the country will phase out its coronavirus lockdown over the next 10 days. The country will move into level 2 of the lockdown allowing schools to reopen and workers to return to their offices.
Bars, however, will be allowed to reopen from May 21 as they are deemed “high-risk”. Also, several social distancing norms will still be in place as social gatherings, including at weddings and funerals, would be limited to 10. While announcing the easing of lockdown, PM Arden warned that "none of us can assume COVID is not with us" but added that the country currently had only 90 active cases.
"Your efforts New Zealand have got us to this place ahead of most of the world and without the carnage that COVID has inflicted in many other places," she said in a televised address. "But there are risks ahead, so please be vigilant."
With a population of about five million people, New Zealand managed to restrict its coronavirus cases to 1,147 and reported at least 21 deaths. On May 4, the country reported zero new coronavirus cases for the first time since going into lockdown in mid-March. Further, the number of new cases has been in single digits since mid-April and the country reported three new infections on May 11.
Under Level Two restrictions, while schools, offices are recreational places are allowed to reopen, international borders will still remain closed. However, domestically, the life will be close to normal with precautions in place. PM Arden said that now people will no longer have to "stick to their bubble" as they will now be allowed to meet their near and dear ones. The country, that has been widely lauded for successfully 'eliminating' coronavirus, will still follow social distancing norms so as to keep risk of a resurgence at bay.
"This is a transition out of our bubbles, you can see people you haven't seen in a while, you just can't do it all at once," Ardern said. "At Level Two we are out and about again, just about all parts of the economy are opening up again."
Besides, people aged over 70 will be able allowed to go out again and domestic travel will also be allowed. Sports teams will also be allowed to return and planning to start a domestic version of Super Rugby on June 13 is already underway. After two weeks, the level two would be reassessed, the PM assured.
'We all know there’s more to do. We may have won a few battles, but we have not won the war. If we slacken up, we might move in the wrong direction," New Zealand PM said.
On April 27, the country declared that it had 'eliminated' coronavirus as reportedly it only recorded one new case, four "probable cases" and one new death. The country returned to level 3 of the lockdown and eased some of its restrictions. Addressing a press conference on April 27, PM Arden admitted that without level 4 restrictions, the picture could have been different. She said models projected New Zealand could have had more than 1,000 cases a day had measures been delayed.
Michael Ryan, the Executive Director of the WHO's Health Emergencies Programme, said on May 8 that New Zealand's "comprehensive" and "systematic" response to the coronavirus outbreak made it more controllable. He added that it was "hard to make hard and fast rules" for how individual countries were affected by the virus. And Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had taken bold steps, putting the country under a strict lockdown in late March, when only about 100 people had tested positive for the new virus. Her motto: “Go hard and go early.”