SYDNEY - By the end of this week New Zealand will have some of the world’s most relaxed COVID-19 controls. Gatherings of up 100 people will be permitted starting Friday (May 29), up from the previous limit of ten people. New Zealand has had about 1,500 reported or probable coronavirus infections. 21 people have died.
In March, New Zealand imposed some of the world’s toughest COVID-19 lockdown measures. At the time, the South Pacific nation of 5 million people had recorded just over 100 confirmed cases of the disease. Many of the restrictions on freedom of movement and business have been wound back, and New Zealand has been able to avoid a second wave of infection, so far.
Health officials have advised the government that larger gatherings of up to 100 people should be safe if distancing and hygiene protocols are followed. Beginning Friday, larger Church services would be allowed to resume, while cafes and restaurants would also be able to serve more customers. Community sports will also begin again.
“The shift to [a] 100-person maximum means many more gatherings will be able to occur from now on," said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. "These changes are good news for business and for those looking to plan larger gatherings. It is another step in [the] renormalizing of life as we continue to stamp out the virus. It is the government’s view that we should also move as quickly as we safely can to alert level one.”
The government will continue to monitor COVID-19 cases and the impact that the removal of disease controls have. A decision on whether to further wind back measures to the lowest — level one — is due in four weeks’ time.
Authorities are, however, warning against complacency. New Zealand’s international borders remain closed to foreign nationals, and, like neighboring Australia, New Zealand has used geography, and relative isolation, to stem the flow of infections coming in from overseas.
New Zealand has also announced a new $230 weekly payment to workers who have lost jobs during the pandemic.