New Zealand to ease coronavirus lockdown next week

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – New Zealand will ease a nationwide coronavirus lockdown next week after claiming success in stopping "an uncontrolled explosion" of the disease, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday, April 20. 

"We have done what very few countries have been able to do," Ardern said. "We have stopped a wave of devastation." (READ: Australia, New Zealand flatten virus curve but keep lockdowns intact)

She said New Zealand would move its maximum Level 4 COVID-19 alert to Level 3 from late evening on Monday, April 27, and remain there for two weeks to assess the situation.

The announcement means businesses deemed safe can reopen, along with some schools, while limits on local travel are also relaxed and gatherings of up to 10 people allowed for events such as weddings or funerals.

While restrictions will be loosened slightly, social distancing rules will remain.

"I couldn't feel prouder of the start we have made together but I also feel a huge responsibility to ensure that we do not lose any of the gains we have made either," she said.

New Zealand entered a four-week lockdown in late March, which included closing the island nation's borders, countrywide stay-at-home orders and shuttering all non-essential businesses and services.

The draconian measures made the country one of the most successful in containing the virus, with around 1,100 known cases among the five-million population, including 12 deaths and 974 recovered patients.

It had 7 confirmed new infections on Monday.

Ardern said easing the lockdown would help the economy, which has been paralyzed by the virus response as companies close and job losses mount, with forecasts that unemployment could skyrocket to almost 26%. (READ: New Zealand prime minister takes 20% pay cut as virus hits economy)

The initial lockdown period was due to end on Wednesday night but Ardern said it was extended slightly to help ensure New Zealand would not need to return to Level 4 again.

"The worst thing we can do for our country is to yo-yo between levels, with all of the uncertainty that this would bring," she said. – Rappler.com