11 May 2020

Covid-19: Decision looms on moving to alert level two

8:09 am on 11 May 2020

A decision on whether to move to alert level 2 will be announced tomorrow and while businesses are keen, a public health expert says there is no evidence to support the move.

A closure sign is displayed on a shop in an empty street in Christchurch, New Zealand, on April 16, 2020.

Many businesses will re-open their doors when the country moves to alert level 2. Photo: Sanka Vidanagama/NurPhoto/AFP

New Zealand has been under alert level 3 for almost two weeks and the government is set to announce tomorrow whether the country will shift to level 2.

A move to level 2 would see a significant loosening of lockdown conditions, with businesses such as retail outlets, hairdressers, restaurants, bars, sports facilities and schools allowed to re-open with strong hygiene and distancing rules.

Gatherings of more than 100 people - both indoor and outdoor - will still be banned, but New Zealanders will also be allowed to travel around the country and visit friends and family. Museums and galleries will also be permitted to open.

The government has been under increasing pressure from the opposition and business groups to re-open the country, with the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) urging the government to make the move to spark a recovery for businesses.

The EMA's business assistance line has received nearly 1000 calls this week and 50 percent of those were worried about their businesses surviving.

EMA chief executive Brett O'Riley said today that businesses were desperate to get back to normal.

"I think if we don't get to that, I think you're going to see more people just going ahead and trying to trade and I think there is an underlying sense of frustration in business and in the community, I think. Now is the time."

He said businesses had demonstrated that they understood health and safety, and had worked hard to implement the guidelines around alert level 3, and were poised to do the same for level 2.

Act Party leader David Seymour said this weekend there was "no plausible reason based on the data to stall the transition to level 2".

"Out on the streets, people are organically moving into level 2 anyway, with crowds gathering and chatting outside cafes in a way that the people themselves would have thought irresponsible just 10 days ago.'

However, a public health expert has suggested the latest figures on Covid-19 provided no evidence that the country was ready to move to level 2.

There were no new cases on two days during the week, but there have been four announced this weekend, with two confirmed cases reported today.

University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker said the country could use another week under level 3.

"People have lost their livelihoods over this, and we have to just make it worthwhile. And that means keeping your physical distance for a few more weeks, until we have a nice, clear patch of no infections. And then the big prize of that effort is that we can go back to life almost as normal."

Baker said people would need to be extra vigilant in a lower alert level, whenever it went ahead.

He also said a mask should be mandatory for all public transport as a key line of defence.

Cabinet will meet tomorrow morning to discuss any change, and a decision is expected in the afternoon.

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