Ardern outlines plans for life at Level 2

The Government has released new details on which businesses will be allowed to operate, and what Kiwis will be allowed to do, once the country reaches Level 2 on the Covid-19 alert system

Tight border restrictions will remain in place when New Zealand reaches Level 2 on the Covid-19 alert system, but Kiwis will be allowed to travel around the country, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed.

Hospitality venues like bars and restaurants will also be allowed to reopen - but only for seated customers and a maximum of 100 people whether they are indoors or outdoors.

Ardern has provided more detail about the Government’s refined Level 2 guidelines ahead of next week’s Cabinet meeting to decide whether or not to move down the alert system.

Speaking to media on Thursday afternoon, Ardern said New Zealanders could be proud of what they had achieved to date, with low numbers of new cases and the “burning embers” of the virus being hunted out through high testing rates.

However, it was unlikely that every single case of Covid-19 had been hunted down, and any stray cases could start new chains of transmission which may not be found for a month, meaning the country needed to stay on alert.

Cabinet would rely on “every number from every single day”, as well as the advice of Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield, before making a decision on when to leave Level 3.

Ardern said the underlying principle of Level 2 was to “play it safe”, with the possibility of a phased move from Level 3 if necessary.

Public health measures such as heightened hand-washing and surface cleaning procedures would remain unchanged, as would the closure of borders to everyone except New Zealand citizens - who would still be required to undergo managed isolation in hotels and approved facilities.

People should still maintain a two-metre distance from strangers, but that distance could be reduced within workplaces or other spaces with acquaintances or people who could be contact-traced later.

Businesses which had been forced to work from home could reopen, provided there were good hygiene measures. However, companies should consider whether they could keep some employees at home if viable, Ardern said.

“The fewer people we have to contact trace in a work place if we need to, the better.”

'Three S's' for hospitality

Hospitality firms, retailers and other companies unable to work remotely could reopen but had to work in a different manner.

Retailers would need to ensure physical distancing in stores, with larger facilities like malls following the lead of supermarkets in limiting the number of people who could enter at any one time.

Hairdressers, beauticians and similar services would need to wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) given it was “virtually impossible” to do their jobs without being in close contact with clients.

Hospitality companies would need to adhere to what Ardern described as “the three S’s”. All customers would need to be seated, with a maximum of 100 people regardless of venue size; there would need to be separation between people and tables; and a single server would have to be assigned to each table, with customers not going up to counters.

Ardern said officials were working on a nationwide technological solution to enable contact tracing, but more manual methods could be used until that was in place.

“We think of ourselves as halfway down Everest - I think it’s clear that no one wants to hike back up that peak.”

While outdoor gatherings had previously been allowed to have up to 500 people at Level 2, that had now been reduced to the indoor limit of 100 in recognition of the risks still attached to big events.

People would be allowed to invite their friends over, as long as they kept any gatherings small, while travel around New Zealand was also permitted provided it was within broader public health rules.

“A trip from Wellington to Napier to see your mum is fine, a trip from Wellington to Napier to go to a large conference with an open bar is not fine.”

Schools and early childhood centres could reopen. However, educational facilities would not open until the start of the week following any decision to move to Level 2, rather than reopening their doors midweek.

When it took place, the move to Level 2 was about reaching a safer normal rather than returning to business as usual, Ardern said.

“We think of ourselves as halfway down Everest - I think it’s clear that no one wants to hike back up that peak.”

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