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Explainer: Here's how New Zealand's lockdown worked and how they'll be relaxing it next week

The country has been one of the most successful in containing the outbreak, with just over 1,000 known cases.

Image: PA

NEW ZEALAND IS expected to start easing its nationwide lockdown next week.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned on Thursday it would be far from a return to normal, but the country is expected to relax some of the strict measures currently in place.

The Pacific country of five million people has been one of the most successful in containing the outbreak, with just over 1,000 known cases and nine deaths. 

The government imposed a maximum Level Four lockdown three weeks ago that included closing the island nation’s borders, countrywide stay-at-home orders and shuttering all but essential businesses and services.

These measures resulted in the closure of companies, thousands of job losses and forecasts that employment could escalate from around 4% to almost 26%.

Level Four

Many of the measures in place in New Zealand have been similar to those in place currently in Ireland. 

  • People were asked to stay at home, except those providing essential services
  • Supermarkets and pharmacies remained open, with social distancing in place.
  • Primary industries such as food production and processing, and freight transport were allowed to operate.
  • Bars, restaurants, gyms, cinemas, museums, libraries and playgrounds had to close.
  • Events such as birthday parties, funerals and weddings could not proceed. 

Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Some small differences include:

  • Takeaway services were closed – grocery deliveries were allowed to continue.
  • Off licences were closed, unless they were in a Licensing Trust Area.

New Zealand has also done more than 70,000 tests – 14,000 per million in the population.

[In Ireland, we've done more than 90,000 tests for the coronavirus - 18,000 per million in the population.]

“There are promising signs our go-hard-and-go-early elimination strategy is working and the lockdown is breaking the chain of community transmission,” Ardern said this week.

The Prime Minister has also noted that the country had geography on its side. An island nation with far fewer international flights than many others, Ardern had said they had a ”distinct advantage in our ability to eliminate the virus”.

She is expected to announce early next week whether the country is in a position to get its economic wheels moving again.

But she insisted that “any move to Level Three cannot put those gains at risk”.

“The test for a business opening at Level Three moves to it being safe, rather than being essential,” she said.

The government has released guidance on what Level Three would look like.

  • Early learning centres and schools will open for children up to the age of 10. Physical attendance at school will be voluntary.
  • Many businesses will be allowed to reopen but must take health measures to keep their workers safe, allowing them to work from home if they can.
  • Workplaces will have to keep one metre between workers, record who is working together and limit interaction between groups of workers.
  • Retail businesses will be allowed to open for delivery and contactless pre-ordered pick-up.

However businesses that offer services involving face-to-face contact such as hairdressing will have to remain closed. Equally, bars, restaurants, shopping centres and other businesses involving close public contact will have to stay closed. 

There will still be limited capacity on public transport to facilitate social distancing. 

People will still be asked to limit their personal interactions to their immediate household bubble whenever they are not at work or school, buying groceries or exercising. 

They will be able to extend their bubble by reconnecting with close family, but will be urged to protect that extended bubble. 

People at higher-risk of severe illness will be encouraged to stay at home where possible. 

Anyone who was not at home when the restrictions came into place will be able to move through New Zealand to return home. However travel restrictions will otherwise remain in place. 

The guidance says gatherings still present a very high risk of transmitting Covid-19. Under Level Three, weddings and funerals will be able to proceed with up to 10 people, but without a reception of any kind to follow. 

- With reporting from AFP. 

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