23 May 2024

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand’s top leadership met on Monday to decide on whether to ease harsh lockdown measures put in place to stamp out the spread of the coronavirus in the country.

The Pacific nation of 5 million introduced its highest, level 4 lockdown measures in late March, under which offices, schools and all non-essential services including bars, restaurants, cafes and playgrounds were shut down.

The measures were tougher than most other countries, including neighbouring Australia, and have proved largely effective in containing the outbreak.

Just nine new cases of COVID-19 were recorded on Monday and no new deaths, taking the total to 1,440 cases with 12 fatalities.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is expected to announce the decision at 0400 GMT.

Whatever is decided, the restrictions would remain in place until midnight on Wednesday when the one-month lockdown period ends.

At a lower, alert level 3, significant restrictions would still be in place, Ardern said last week, although more people would be able to go to work.

“This is going to be a long terms project for us. A move to alert level 3 is not a return to pre COVID-19 life for any of us,” she said at a news conference on Sunday. “More of economy will be able to come back on line, but our social lives will not.”

Ardern has said under alert level 3, businesses can reopen if they are able to provide contactless engagement with customers.

Shops, malls, hardware stores and restaurants will remain shut but can permit online or phone purchases.

Schools would be able to open partially up to year 10 but attendance would be voluntary. Funerals and weddings will be able to go ahead, but limited to 10 people.

University of Auckland professor Shaun Hendy, who has been modelling the spread of COVID-19 in New Zealand, said an extension of the lockdown measures could result in New Zealand eliminating the virus completely.

“It would make sense to delay lifting the lockdown as we know level 4 works,” Hendy told Radio New Zealand.