New Zealand will move to Level 2 this week, with Jacinda Ardern urging New Zealanders to remain alert to public health measures as we return to “a new, safer normal” 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed New Zealand will move down to Level 2 on the Covid-19 alert system from this Thursday, paving the way for a wide range of businesses to reopen.

However, bars will remain closed for another week after that, and gatherings at events like house parties, weddings and stag dos will be limited to groups of 10 or less.

Speaking on Monday afternoon after the weekly Cabinet meeting, Ardern said ministers had agreed the country was ready to move down from Level 3 and reopen this week.

From Thursday, retailers, restaurants, cafes, cinemas, and other public spaces like gyms and playgrounds will be allowed to reopen with physical distancing and public health measures in place. The public will also be allowed to travel around New Zealand.

Schools and other educational facilities will reopen to students from next Monday, May 18, while bars will not be allowed to reopen until Thursday, May 21.

That was due to the larger risk associated with them, as had been evidenced by a new virus outbreak in South Korea linked to a nightclub, Ardern said.

She acknowledged the new rules would mean Kiwis “breaking out of our bubbles”, and said New Zealanders would need to maintain physical distancing in public while keeping social gatherings small.

To assist with that, events designed for “mixing and mingling” like weddings and parties would need to be kept to groups of 10 or less – a limit that would be reviewed in two weeks.

“When we come together to socialise in large numbers with one another, there is risk. The best insurance policy we have for that risk is to reduce the size of our socialising for now.”

While there would be larger overall crowds in places like cinemas, those would be properly spaced out.

Hospitality venues like bars and restaurants will also be allowed to reopen – but only for seated customers and a maximum of 100 people whether they are indoors or outdoors. Restaurants will not be allowed to take bookings for groups larger than 10.

Asked about how the Government would distinguish between restaurants and bars, the Prime Minister said it had worked with Hospitality NZ and was basing the restrictions on those for Easter trading and Anzac Day, with required them to be open for the primary purpose of serving food.

Ardern revealed the Government’s revised plans for life at Level 2 last week, with New Zealanders allowed to travel around the country but stringent border measures remaining in place.

At the time, Ardern praised New Zealanders’ efforts to stamp out the virus but warned it was unlikely that every single case had been tracked down.

She had flagged the possibility of a phased move out of Level 3 then, saying the principle underpinning the Government’s planning was to “play it safe”.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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