Jacinda Ardern’s government is ending New Zealand’s lockdown outside Auckland after seeing a dip in COVID-19 cases.
New Zealand has spent 20 days in lockdown to fight a Delta variant outbreak, identified by a single case on August 17.
From a peak of 83 cases on Sunday, August 29, cases have slipped to 20 a day, recorded on each of the past three days.
With a lack of cases outside of New Zealand’s biggest city, Ms Ardern has given the rest of North Island and the COVID-free South Island more of their freedoms back. They will shift to alert level two from 11.59pm on Tuesday (local time).
“We are making progress but we have some real challenges ahead,” Ms Ardern said.
“Moving to level two is progress and it is positive but it comes with a warning.
“We’re within sight of elimination but we cannot drop the ball.”
The alert level shift means that, from Wednesday, most businesses will be able to reopen and studying Kiwis will return to schools and campuses.
However, Ms Ardern has announced tougher rules than applied at previous level two settings.
A mask-wearing mandate will apply to almost all indoor venues, which Ms Ardern said was due to the increased infectiousness of the Delta variant.
Checking-in at venues will also become mandatory to aid contact-tracing in future outbreaks.
A new limit of 50 people will apply to indoor venues in an effort to reduce super-spreading events.
Gyms and other public facilities must also provide spacing of two metres between patrons.
The caseload in Auckland – responsible for 807 of the 821 infections in the outbreak – meant Ms Ardern had already confirmed it would spend at least another week in level four lockdown.
New Zealand’s level four restrictions place 1.7 million Kiwis in harsh lockdown conditions. No gatherings are permitted, there are very few reasons to leave households and there are major curbs on business.
Monday’s 20 cases were all identified in Auckland.
There are 40 people with COVID-19 in hospital, and six in intensive care units.
New Zealand’s death toll through the pandemic is 27, after a woman aged in her 90s, died after contracting the virus last weekend.