On Monday, the Prime Minister and her Cabinet will decide whether New Zealand is ready to move to alert level 1 of the COVID-19 response - just a stone's throw away from normality.
Sunday marked the country's 16th consecutive day of zero new COVID-19 cases, with just one active case remaining. Although it's not guaranteed that the virus has been completely eradicated from New Zealand (only 294,048 people - roughly 6 percent of our population - have been tested), it's a strong indicator that the disease has been sufficiently controlled.
Last Wednesday, Jacinda Ardern provided a rundown on what New Zealanders could expect from alert level 1, a mere rung on the ladder away from pre-COVID normality. The Prime Minister revealed that current restrictions on businesses will be "essentially lifted", meaning physical distancing protocol and the strict 'three S' rule for the hospitality industry will both come to an end.
"Ultimately, level 1 represents us getting the virus under control, but the war doesn't end so long as COVID-19 is still around the world - the economic damage caused by it is ongoing," Ardern said.
"We need to stay united - and when we get to level 1, appreciate the freedoms it offers while putting in place new behaviours that mean we don't have to go backwards... none of us want to go backwards again."
What can New Zealanders expect under alert level 1?
During the press conference last Wednesday, Ardern established the ground rules for alert level 1. The Prime Minister's regulation rundown is largely based on the public health messages preached to the public by the Ministry of Health since the beginning of New Zealand's outbreak.
Under the new alert level, Kiwis can continue to enjoy brunch and buffets alike.
Ardern confirmed that the hospitality industry will no longer need to adhere to the strict "three S" protocol implemented under alert level 2, that required patrons to remain seated at separated tables, be served by a single staff member and to social distance from other customers.
This will mean that formerly bustling businesses can fill their premises with patrons without the hindrance of physical distancing protocol.
Domestic travel, which was reintroduced under alert level 2, will be made a little less stressful without the need for physical distancing at airports. Inter-regional travel has been acknowledged as an important booster for New Zealand's domestic tourism industry, which has suffered immensely from the sudden reduction in overseas visitors.
Ardern and her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison have confirmed plans for a trans-Tasman 'bubble' that would enable flights between the two countries, without the need for the mandatory two-week quarantine period upon arrival.
Once the trans-Tasman deal has been made, the Government intends to expand the bubble to include the Pacific Islands, which have remained relatively unscathed by the virus.
However, New Zealanders should not expect any other international travel anytime soon.
"We also - and this is key - need to maintain strict border measures. Let me be clear: the only reason we are in the enviable position of even being able to consider a move to alert level 1 is because of our strict border controls," Ardern reiterated last week.
Social events, gatherings
As the cap on mass gatherings was increased to 100 people on May 29, Ardern has noted there is a risk of a future outbreak associated with the loosening of this restriction.
Ardern said the Government is working with ticketing agencies and large-scale event organisers to establish a 'COVID code', which will allow the contact details of event attendees to be collected to ensure any future contact tracing can be undertaken swiftly and efficiently.
"Our churches will be able to return to full service, all sports and concert stadiums can be sold out and we can celebrate and mourn with one another in groups of any size," Ardern confirmed.
"Community sport can start without size and distancing restrictions and all physical distancing on trains and public transport will no longer need to be in place."
The Prime Minister said while the current alert level 2 restrictions will largely end at level 1, New Zealanders "do need [to begin] new behaviours", particularly to mitigate the risk of a future outbreak.
"It does not mean our battle with the virus is over. COVID is still in the world with over 100,000 cases being reported daily, including in most of the countries we have close connections with," Ardern said.
"So, at level 1 we all need to adopt new behaviours in order to keep any future cases of COVID under control, particularly public health measures like hand hygiene, to reduce the risk of transmission when new cases pop up, and enhance contact tracing."
Ardern's 10 'golden' alert level 1 rules
- If you're sick, stay home: "Don't go to work or school, don't socialise. None of that changes when we lift restrictions. We do not want New Zealanders to be stoic and go into workplaces or anywhere else if they're sick."
- If you have symptoms, get tested: "If you have cold or flu-like symptoms, call your doctor or Healthline. Make sure you get tested."
- Practice good hand hygiene: "Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands."
- Sneeze safely: "Sneeze and cough into your elbow and regularly disinfect shared surfaces."
- Listen to the authorities: "If you're told by health authorities to self-isolate, you must do so immediately."
- If you're worried, speak to an expert: "If you're concerned about your wellbeing or you've got underlying health conditions, we encourage you to work with your GP to understand how best to stay healthy."
- Pay attention to your movements: "Keep track of where you've been and who you've seen to help with contact tracing if needed. I really encourage you to use the NZ COVID Tracer app as a handy and easy way to do that."
- Businesses should do their bit to help contact tracing efforts: "Businesses should help people keep track of their movements by displaying the Ministry of Health QR code for contact tracing."
- Remain vigilant and prepared: "There is still a global pandemic going on. People and businesses should be prepared to act fast to step up alert levels if we have to.
- Be kind: "People will have had very different experiences over the past couple of months. Whatever you're feeling, it's okay. Be kind to others and be kind to yourself."