WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday she could lift all social distancing measures to return the country to normal life, bar the international border closure, as early as next week.
Ardern will decide on Monday whether the country is ready to shift to alert level 1, more than two months after she imposed a strict level 4 lockdown, shutting most businesses and forcing people to stay home, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Arden said waiting until Monday would allow her to see if recent changes, like the removal of restrictions on the number of people in bars and at social gatherings, had led to a rise in cases.
“If it hasn’t, then we will be in a good position to move,” she said during a televised news conference.
Under level 1 there is no requirement for physical distancing or limits on the number of people allowed in places like bars, clubs, churches, and sports venues, she said.
However, there would be one major change from pre-pandemic normality, with no immediate plans to reopen New Zealand’s border.
New Zealand recorded no new cases of coronavirus for a 12th consecutive day on Wednesday and has just one active case. Ardern’s decision to swiftly impose one of the harshest lockdowns in the world has been credited with constraining the spread of COVID-19 in New Zealand, which has reported a total of 1,504 cases and 22 deaths.
Ardern said the focus under a level 1 alert would shift to public health measures and basic personal hygiene like regular hand washing, self-isolation by anyone with flu-like symptoms and contact tracing.
The government will work with large scale event organisers to develop a voluntary ‘COVID code’, which would help authorities in contact tracing if it is needed, she added.
Reporting by Praveen Menon; editing by Jane Wardell