The government has just unveiled more detail about what life will be like for New Zealanders under level three restrictions. What will it mean for schools, business and day-to-day life?
The first point – we still don’t know when we’ll move to level three.
That has not been announced today, and an update won’t be given until Monday. When the level four lockdown was initially announced, it was for a four-week term – so would theoretically be ending on April 23. But it could still be extended further if the government sees the need for longer measures to control Covid-19. If the announcement on Monday signals that we will move to level three, it will give everyone two days to prepare.
There has been a hint. PM Ardern said in today’s briefing that the signs were “promising”, and said that we are now in the rare position of being able to make decisions for the future. However, she also said today’s discussion “in no way foreshadows” the decision that will be announced on Monday. There was also a signal that moves between levels would be taken cautiously, so as to “not give away the gains” made so far.
What are the general principles of level three?
The goal remains to “restrict” contact with each other, said Ardern, describing it as a “waiting room, to see if it has worked”. She said alert level two would be much closer to normal life as we understand it, and at level three the message would continue to be that people should stay home. “At level three we’ll be cautiously opening up our economy, albeit with mitigations in place,” said Ardern. It is a progression of steps, rather than a rush, in an attempt to get to a place of safety before full reopening takes place.
If we do move to level three, will schools reopen?
Not immediately. The earliest possible date given so far for schools to reopen is April 29, and that is contingent on a lot of things going right. Attendance would be voluntary, and children who are able to stay home will still be encouraged to. It will also only apply up to and including year 10.
Will businesses be able to open again?
Some will, but only if they can demonstrate that they can do so safely, with physical distancing protocols in place. The move from “essential only” to “safe only” is the key point.
That means that industries like construction, forestry, and work inside people’s homes will be able to continue, provided those workplaces use proper health and safety practices.
Some businesses will not be able to open. That includes public-facing bars, cafes and restaurants, malls and retail stores. However, food delivery will be allowed. “The key principle here is simple – you cannot engage in face-to-face transactions,” said Ardern. All businesses will need to make a health and safety plan, and make that visible at worksites if they intend to open again.
For those who work at jobs that are normally in offices, expect to continue working from home for the foreseeable future. “Alternative ways of working” are still required at level three, so don’t feel the need to save your good jokes up for the water-cooler, use them now on the company Slack.
Will Anzac Day ceremonies go ahead on the April 25?
No. Regardless of what happens in Monday’s announcement, there won’t be any sort of mass gatherings for the foreseeable future. The public holiday that comes with Anzac Day will still be Mondayised though, so you’ll get a day off.
What about other recreational and public facilities?
There will be a loosening of the rules around going to the beach or the park, but places like public libraries, gyms and movie theatres will still be shut. There will also still be rules against recreational trips to different regions – you still won’t be able to drive to the Coromandel from Auckland, for example. You could instead go to Piha.
But if you do go to the beach, the message is to avoid anything risky or motorised, because it might break down and you’ll need to be rescued. An example of that given by Ardern was using a jet-ski, which would not be allowed at level three. “You can swim, you can surf, you can fish from the shore,” she said, “but now is not the time to take up a new activity that you have not done before.” She also said rules against congregating would remain – “don’t treat it as a reunion with your long-lost swimming buddies”.
Will the rules on personal bubbles be relaxed?
People are allowed to expand their bubble “a small amount” at level three, for example by bringing in an extra family member for caregiving, provided bubbles stay exclusive. However, this will not be a time to reunite with friends, said Ardern, and in general terms people are being told to stay in their bubbles.
What about weddings and funerals?
They will be allowed to go ahead, but for funerals there will be a 10-person limit. For weddings, the rules will only allow ceremonies, rather than receptions or dinners that would previously have gone with it.
What about the health system generally?
More guidance will be coming out on that “in the next 48 hours”, said the PM. Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said primary care, dental care and physios will be allowed, but in principle people should be doing that remotely as much as possible.
Any other general principles?
Ardern said you should continue acting like you, and those around you, have Covid-19. She also asked that people maintain details about where they have been, and who they have seen, to make the job of contact tracing easier if necessary.
ALERT LEVEL THREE IN SUM
From the official government guidance:
• People instructed to stay home in their bubble other than for essential personal movement – including to go to work, school if they have to or for local recreation.
• Physical distancing of two metres outside home (including on public transport), or one metre in controlled environments like schools and workplaces.
• People must stay within their immediate household bubble, but can expand this to reconnect with close family / whānau, or bring in caregivers, or support isolated people. This extended bubble should remain exclusive.
• Schools (years 1 to 10) and early childhood education centres can safely open, but will have limited capacity. Children should learn at home if possible.
• People must work from home unless that is not possible.
• Businesses can open premises, but cannot physically interact with customers.
• Low-risk local recreation activities are allowed.
• Public venues are closed (eg libraries, museums, cinemas, food courts, gyms, pools, playgrounds, markets).
• Gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed but only for wedding services, funerals and tangihanga. Physical distancing and public health measures must be maintained.
• Healthcare services use virtual, non-contact consultations where possible.
• Inter-regional travel is highly limited (e.g. for essential workers, with limited exemptions for others).
• People at high risk of severe illness (older people and those with existing medical conditions) are encouraged to stay at home where possible, and take additional precautions when leaving home. They may choose to work.