New Zealand to ease tough virus lockdown measures next week

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand will next week ease some of the world’s strictest lockdown measures taken to tackle the novel coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday, after a month of tight restrictions slowed the spread of the disease.

FILE PHOTO: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a news conference prior to the anniversary of the mosque attacks that took place the prior year in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Martin Hunter

The Pacific nation of 5 million introduced its highest, level 4 lockdown measures in late March, shutting down offices, schools and all non-essential services including bars, restaurants, cafes and playgrounds.

New Zealand move out of alert level 4 on April 27, a few days longer than the scheduled one-month lockdown, after which it will be in alert level 3 for two weeks, Ardern said in a news conference.

“We considered that the longer we are in lockdown, the less likely it is we will need to go back,” Ardern said on why the lockdown measures were extended.

New Zealand’s hard and fast lockdown approach, shutting its borders and announcing a state of national emergency before it recorded a coronavirus death – has been credited with containing the highly contagious disease.

Just nine new cases of COVID-19 were recorded on Monday and no new deaths, taking the total to 1,440 cases with 12 fatalities.

Ardern said alert Level 3 allows more economic activity such as construction, manufacturing and forestry, but it does not allow more social activity. Decisions on whether restrictions can be relaxed further will be made on May 11, she said.

“If we want to make sure that we are a health success story, and ensure our economy can start to operate again without the virus taking off, we need to get the next phase right,” she said.

“The worst thing we can do for our country is to yo-yo between levels, with all of the uncertainty that this would bring.”

The New Zealand dollar NZD=D3 jumped about half a percent after the announcement, rising from negative territory to $0.6050, its highest in three sessions.

New Zealand has amongst the lowest number of confirmed cases per 100,000 people in the world, the government said. Its testing has scaled up and the government has now tested over 85,000 New Zealanders.

The country’s transmission rate, the number of cases each person with the virus passes it onto, is now 0.48, less than half a person each. Overseas the average is 2.5 people, Ardern said.

Ardern said last week that shops, malls, hardware stores and restaurants will remain shut under alert level 3, but can permit online or phone purchases.

Schools would be able to open partially up to year 10 but attendance would be voluntary. Funerals and weddings will be able to go ahead, but limited to 10 people.

Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus, open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser

Reporting by Praveen Menon; Additional reporting by Tom Westbrook in Singapore; Editing by Lincoln Feast

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