New Zealanders lined up from before dawn Tuesday at McDonald’s drive-throughs across the country, as cafes, restaurants and takeaway stores reopened on a limited-service basis after five weeks of one of the strictest coronavirus lockdowns in the world.
From midnight Monday, New Zealand moved down from Level 4 restrictions, in which all businesses except for essential services were closed, to Level 3, which allows for greater economic activity provided social distancing guidelines are maintained.
“Like many people returning to work or back at work today, I have enjoyed a takeaway coffee,” said the country’s director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield.
(People order MacDonalds takeaways at the drive through in Pakuranga on April 28, 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand.)
However, Bloomfield stressed that even though people may enjoy greater levels of freedom, they should not congregate at cafes and takeaways. “We do not want to see the sorts of rebound that we have seen in other countries.”
On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared a temporary victory over the highly contagious virus, after imposing a state of emergency on March 25 and shutting down much of the country to contain it.
“There is no widespread undetected community transmission in New Zealand. We have won that battle,” Ardern told reporters. “But we must remain vigilant if we are to keep it that way.”
The tough measures employed by New Zealand have helped it successfully limit the spread of COVID-19 with 1,472 confirmed and probable cases of the virus and just 19 deaths in a country of almost 5 million people.
Roughly 400,000 people also returned to work on Tuesday, with construction and forestry sectors among the largest industries to restart after the lockdown.
Employees who can continue working from home are required to do so, and schools will only be open with limited capacity to provide care for students who are unable to study from home.
While the strict lockdown has been a successful public health measure, it is yet to be seen how New Zealand’s economy will recover.
Recent modeling from the treasury department showed that without additional government support, unemployment could reach over 13 percent due to the coronavirus prevention measures.
New Zealand will remain at Level 3 restrictions for two weeks before the government reevaluates the situation on May 11.
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