WELLINGTON – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday that he could lift all social measures to return the country to normal life, except for the closure of international borders, as early as next week.
Ardern will decide on Monday whether the country is ready to move to level 1, more than two months after he imposed a strict level 4 lock, shutting down most of the business and forcing people to stay at home, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Arden said waiting until Monday would allow him to see whether recent changes, such as the removal of restrictions on the number of people in bars and at social gatherings, had led to an increase in cases.
“If not, then we will be in a good position to move,” he said during a press conference broadcast on television.
Under level 1 there are no requirements for physical distance or limits on the number of people allowed in places such as bars, clubs, churches and sports venues, he said.
However, there will be a major change from pre-pandemic normality, without any immediate plans to reopen the New Zealand border.
New Zealand has not recorded a new case of coronavirus for 12 consecutive days on Wednesday and has only one active case. Ardern’s decision to immediately enforce one of the hardest lockouts in the world has been credited with inhibiting the spread of COVID-19 in New Zealand, which has reported a total of 1,504 cases and 22 deaths.
Ardern said the focus under alert level 1 would turn to basic public health and personal hygiene measures such as regular hand washing, isolation by anyone with flu-like symptoms and contact tracing.
The government will work with large-scale event organizers to develop voluntary ‘COVID codes’, which will assist authorities in tracing contacts if needed, he added.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; editing by Jane Wardell)
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