New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during the post-Cabinet press conference in Wellington, May 11, 2020.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during the post-Cabinet press conference in Wellington, May 11, 2020.

New Zealand will begin gradually lifting its restrictions imposed by the government to blunt the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Monday that businesses such as shopping malls, movie theaters, restaurants, playgrounds and gyms will reopen beginning this Thursday under the second level of the government’s four-tier COVID-19 threat level system.  Schools will reopen next Monday, May 18, while bars will remain closed until May 21.  Strict social distancing measures will continue to be in effect, and the country’s borders remain closed to foreign visitors.

Prime Minister Ardern imposed the highest tier, level 4, in late March, shutting down all economic activity except for essential services, as the outbreak took hold in the Pacific nation of five million people.

The threat level was reduced to level 3 nearly two weeks ago, which lifted bans on construction work and domestic travel and allowed restaurants to reopen for carryout services, but kept malls, hairdressers and other businesses closed.

Ardern said the government will reassess the new Level 2 status in about two weeks to determine if even more restrictions can be lifted.

New Zealand’s response to the outbreak, including a widespread testing and tracing regime, has won praise from the international community.  The country has a total number of 1,147 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections, with 21 deaths.