Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Government has no plans to end New Zealand’s four-week lockdown ahead of schedule, despite acknowledging there are signs the country is “starting to turn a corner” in its fight against coronavirus.
Ardern’s comments came as Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield reported there had been only 50 new cases of Covid-19 in the last 24 hours – the lowest daily number in two weeks, despite the highest number of daily tests taking place (at more than 4000).
Speaking to media, the Prime Minister said there was some cause for optimism in the emerging trend with infection rates, despite the possibility for “bumps along the way”.
However, Ardern said the Government intended to stick to the four-week Level 4 lockdown as planned, as the data it needed to make a decision on moving out of the restrictions was being gathered in real time.
“As I’ve said all the way through … I have cautious optimism but now is the time to stay the course.”
Bloomfield said new data being collated on laboratory testing rates by region and ethnicity, as well as positivity rates by region, would be a “key input” for the decisions around leaving lockdowns as officials sought to ensure they had not missed any small community outbreaks.
With the Easter holiday period looming, Ardern said Level 4 restrictions would still remain in place as usual – something which she acknowledged would disappoint religious New Zealanders, who would instead have to look to technology for Easter services.
She also warned Kiwis against heading to holiday homes over the break, saying they still had to stay at home.
“We are aware that some may be contemplating leaving their homes and travelling to holiday homes: we’ve given clear advice that nothing changes because it’s Easter, the rules stay the same and police will be looking to enforce that.”
In the wake of business leaders telling Parliament’s epidemic response committee that more clarity was needed around the move out of lockdown, Ardern said the Government was currently fleshing out the details of how businesses could operate at Level 3 or lower.
However, it was already clear that businesses would have to change their usual operating methods to account for new health and safety needs.
“With every business, whether or not it’s operating as an essential business … what I’d ask you to do is prepare – our new normal is going to be an environment where we need everyone to be able to help us with contact tracing.”