New Zealand’s largest city Auckland has had its coronavirus restrictions eased after 18 days, after a lockdown was introduced when the city was rocked by a cluster of COVID-19 community infections for the first time in more than 100 days.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the city’s 1.7 million residents will now enter ‘Level 2.5’ after Level Three restrictions ended at 11.59pm on Sunday night.
“It is designed to keep us on track with our elimination strategy at level two in the scenario we now have, but it will only work if people follow the guidance, I understand it is easy to become complacent,” she told reporters.
Key changes include gatherings limited to 10 people, compulsory face masks on public transport and travel in and out of the city is allowed.
Ms Ardern said she “cannot stress how important” it is to ensure social gatherings adhere to the restrictions.
“If we want to stop the spread, we have to stop socialising for a time,” she said.
Many businesses such as restaurants and retail shops will reopen but under strict COVID-19 rules.
Funerals are allowed 50 people in attendance, while social distancing of two metres for all remains.
Ms Ardern is encouraging all residents to wear masks when they leave the home.
Cases likely to grow, PM warns
On Sunday, the nation announced a further two infections, both linked to the Auckland cluster which now stands at 135 people.
When New Zealand lifted its lockdown following its first wave of infections, there had been no community transmission for two weeks.
There are currently 117 active community cases, and while Ms Ardern presses ahead with easing restrictions, she admitted the Auckland cluster is likely to grow.
However, health authorities are confident they have the outbreak under control thanks to their stringent contact tracing, with the director of public health, Caroline McElnay, saying “our level of comfort” over the situation is high, the New Zealand Herald reported.
Researchers at the University of Canterbury have hailed the quick reactions of the New Zealand government in implementing Level Three and the decision to extend it by four days until Sunday.
“If we hadn’t acted quickly, we would have had hundreds of new cases by now, and it would have become far more difficult to bring the outbreak under control,” Professor Michael Plank and Associate Professor Alex James explained on The Conversation.
Moving into ‘Level 2.5’ on Monday, they said they’re confident the restrictions will work if people simply follow the rules.
“The best way to prevent a resurgence of the virus at level 2 is if we all avoid the three Cs: closed spaces, crowded places and close contacts,” they said.
Ardern apologises for incorrect testing message
On Monday morning, an “angry” Ms Ardern apologised for an incorrect testing message issued to 750,000 Auckland residents via the government’s official accounts on Instagram and Facebook.
"It was a mistake, I fully acknowledge that," Ms Ardern told Newstalk ZB.
Residents had lined up for testing on Sunday after the message indicated anyone in south and west Auckland should get tested regardless of symptoms.
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