New Zealand’s economy is set to improve as domestic tourism and hospitality sectors open their restaurants and cinemas after more than 50 days in lockdown.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday that the country will drop to “Alert Level 2” from level three restrictions, meaning that cafes, retail businesses and shopping centres will open, followed by a return for students to the classroom next week.
“We are ready to move to level two, to open up the economy, but to do it as safely as possible. Our focus has always been on our own response, doing what has been best for New Zealand’s health and New Zealand’s economy,” she said.
“We went hard and we went early. We got control of the virus.
“As of today, we have only 90 New Zealanders recorded with the virus, with only two in hospital.
“None of it has been through luck, but rather through hard work,” she said.
New Zealand has recorded 1497 cases of COVID-19, with 21 deaths and a further 1386 people fully recovered.
From Thursday May 14, retail businesses, hairdressers, cafes, gyms, cinemas, malls and playgrounds will be free to open, and New Zealanders will be allowed to socialise with friends and family outside their household ‘bubbles’ once more.
From Monday May 18, schools and early learning centres will resume classes as usual.
Bars will be the last public venues allowed to return, opening on May 21, with Ms Ardern’s government taking heed of an experience from South Korea where a cluster of 40 cases has formed from a newly re-opened bar.
But there will be no mingling between groups or dance floors as physical distancing measures remain in place.
Social groupings, whether at a restaurant, a dinner party, a wedding or funeral, will be limited to 10 people.
Professional sport can also recommence, with New Zealand Rugby immediately announcing plans for a domestic Super Rugby season to begin from next month.
On Monday, health officials announced just three new cases nationwide, laying the groundwork for Ms Ardern’s cabinet to approve the end of the clampdown.
After suffering at the hands of a lockdown more brutal than Australia’s for the past seven weeks, New Zealanders will be allowed to travel around the country once more, to the delight of under-pressure tourism operators.
Ms Ardern said she was pleased to see restrictions eased “sooner than many other countries around the world” but declined an invitation to compare New Zealand’s efforts with Australian measures.
“And now we’re in a position where we can safely step out of those controls and open our economy back up.”
After the announcement, many Kiwis took to social media to express their joy, making plans for a first haircut or beer.
Ms Ardern, who relocated her family to Wellington during the lockdown, said she was most looking forward to reuniting with family.
“I’m actually really looking forward to giving my sister a hug. I haven’t seen her for a couple of months because I haven’t been home,” she said.