New Zealand’s government is set to lift all Covid-19 restrictions except stringent border controls almost immediately, prime minister Jacinda Ardern has disclosed, as the nation’s health officials declared that there were no longer any known, active cases of the coronavirus left in the Country.
“We are ready,” said Ardern at a news conference in Wellington, adding that New Zealanders had “united in unprecedented ways to crush the virus.”
Ardern has drawn global headlines and praise from the World Health Organization for her government’s approach to the virus, with a strict and cautious approach that appears to have paid off. On 25 March she locked down the country for four weeks – requiring that most New Zealanders remained at home most of the time – before gradually easing restrictions.
From midnight on Monday, Ardern said New Zealanders would live in a country “where life feels as normal as we can in the time of a global pandemic”. Physical distancing rules and limits on gathering sizes would be jettisoned, she said, allowing any parts of the economy still stalled to reopen.
New Zealanders responded with jubilation on social media.
“I know it’s a Monday and all, but I reckon I might pop that bottle of bubbly tonight and raise a glass to all the people of this fine country. Ka pai Aotearoa,” said James Shaw, the climate change minister, using a Māori phrase that means ‘good job, New Zealand.’
“Also, wash your hands…” he added.
Others looked forward to new freedoms with no restrictions in place from midnight on Monday: breakfast buffets, sitting next to each other on public transport, and being allowed to “touch my face”.