2 Jun 2020

Businesses cautiously optimistic about level 1

8:21 pm on 2 June 2020

Talk of returning the country to a "new normal" has been welcomed with cautious optimism, but those who are eagerly awaiting a change warn the devil is in the detail.

Business open sign.

Photo: 123RF

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern this morning signalled Cabinet would look at moving to alert level 1 next Monday, two weeks sooner than expected.

It will be uncharted waters for this country, which has never been in alert level 1 since the alert level system was introduced.

Announcing the new four-tier system on 21 March, Ardern announced that the country was at alert level 2.

Ardern today said she would provide more information on what level 1 would look like later this week.

Until then the rules are a bit uncertain. According to the Ministry of Health's Covid website, at level 1 the disease is considered contained in New Zealand. While it may be uncontrolled overseas, transmission in New Zealand is limited to isolated household transmission.

Border restrictions, regular testing and self isolation remain, but there are no restrictions on gatherings or domestic transport. Physical distancing is encouraged and contacts must still be tracked.

Jacinda Ardern and David Bloomfield discuss the government's new alert system.

Jacinda Ardern and David Bloomfield discuss the government's new alert system. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts said the alert levels were pulled together in a very short space of time and while a good job was done given the time pressure officials were under, it might be a good opportunity to look at what was appropriate under each level.

He was hopeful that earlier guidance banning gatherings of more than 500 people would be changed when the government specified what level 1 would look like.

"That would be quite restrictive still on a whole lot of events, from sporting events to music concerts and just general gatherings of people - all of which are features of tourism. So, we'd be looking for some guidance and hopefully some leniency on the size of gatherings that are allowed.

"For tourism, the borders remain closed and that means until they open we are limited to domestic tourism only."

Roberts said he would also like to see the restrictions around transport lifted, so planes and buses could operate with greater capacity.

Restaurant Association president Mike Egan said restaurants were having to turn people away because capacity was limited to 100 people at level 2. A move to level 1 would be extremely welcome, especially in an industry with very narrow profit margins, he said.

"Everything's back to normal. No social distancing, we can put our tables back into our restaurants, we don't have to limit to 100. And we don't have to keep a register, but people that are feeling unwell should seek medical advice, which should happen all the time, anyway if people are feeling unwell. As far as I can understand it's back to how it was."

Wellington's Sky Stadium has capacity for 35,000 people, and chief executive Shane Harmon said they were ready to welcome crowds back for the Hurricanes versus the Crusaders game on 21 June, for the second round of the new rugby competition.

Asafo Aumua playing for the Hurricanes.

Sports games - with spectators - could resume in level 1 Photo: Photosport

While level 1 rules did not state any restrictions on social gatherings, Harmon said requirements to contact trace and encouragement for physical distancing would continue.

"We're likely to have some distancing measures around catering and toilets etcetera and prior to lockdown, for the last few events, we did have additional cleaning measures, hand sanitiser stations and lots of public messaging around the venue - which we would expect would continue.

"But hopefully nothing that will make it too operationally difficult to comply with. So fingers crossed, the restrictions remain as is, on the website."

He said he would wait to see if the ministry made any changes to its advice, and would only run events if they could comply with the official guidelines.

Across town, the much smaller Bats Theatre had been experimenting with how it could produce work online. This Friday it planned to run its second stream, hosting a cocktail hour.

General manager Jonathan Hendry said a move to level 1 was not like turning on a tap.

"Just as we've been thinking about the team of five million - our approach is going to be slow and steady; reviewing things, testing things out with our audiences. Because it's partly our audiences and partly us that need to work together on making a safe space under level 1 to go through winter."

Timeline of changes to New Zealand's Covid-19 alert levels.

21 March - The prime minister introduced the Alert Levels Framework and announced that New Zealand was currently at alert level 2

23 March - Announcement that New Zealand would move immediately to alert level 3, and move to level 4 at 11:59pm on 25 March for an initial period of four weeks (up to 22 April), with a review prior to this date to decide whether and when to move to alert level 3

20 April - Announcement that alert level 4 would be extended slightly, then move from level 4 to level 3 at 11:59pm on Monday 27 April for at least two weeks, at which time the level would be reviewed

11 May - The prime minister announced a graduated move to level 2, commencing at 11.59pm on 13 May

21 May - Some level 2 restrictions on hospitality businesses were loosened from this date, and a further loosening of social gatherings limits occurred again on 28 May.

2 June - undertaking to consider on 8 June whether and when to move to alert Level 1

Read more about the Covid-19 coronavirus:

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs