New Zealanders shouldn't simply assume lockdown measures will be lifted next week, and even if they are, strict restrictions will remain in place, the Prime Minister says.
On Monday, April 20, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern along with her COVID-19 committee will decide whether to extend New Zealand's nationwide lockdown, take the country to alert level 3 or potentially maintain the lockdown in only certain regions of the country.
With the number of COVID-19 cases Aotearoa is reporting daily trending downwards despite increasing testing, Ardern has repeatedly said she's cautiously optimistic the country is turning a corner. However, she's also called for Kiwis not to become complacent. All it takes is for one person to contract the SARS-CoV-2 virus, socialise with others, and infect them for an outbreak to occur. The number of significant clusters around New Zealand continues to increase, up to 15 on Monday, many of which are linked to parties or events.
Speaking to The AM Show on Tuesday, Ardern said New Zealanders shouldn't look at the falling numbers and simply assume lockdown measures will be lifted.
"Take nothing as a given. We have made no decisions around our movements, but what I can tell you is that we won't jump levels. We will transition through them when we come to move through them," Ardern said.
"We are using the most up-to-date data that we have and case numbers that we have… That is what we will use on April 20 to make that decision in realtime. That is really important, particularly with the lag time of the infection, we need to make sure that we are using all the information that we have to make that crucial decision."
Details on what alert level 3 will look like will be released on Thursday, but the Prime Minister has referred to it as a "waiting room" which allows slightly more activity to occur, but still with some restriction.
According to the alert level system framework released last month, level 3 would continue to see travel in areas with clusters or community transmission limited, affected educational facilities closed, mass gatherings banned, public venues shut, and people required to find alternative ways of working. Some non-essential businesses would remain shut.
For the many businesses crying out to reopen or looking for certainty around their short-term future, Ardern said Thursday's announcement will be helpful in providing specific advice to different industries. The Government will engage with sector groups like BusinessNZ and the Retail Association prior to making the new guidelines public.
"People will see the principles we are applying at level 3, which will still be a principle of really trying to reduce down general members of the public's contact with each other."
Among the data Ardern and her officials will be considering is the level of community transmission in New Zealand, the country's ability to quickly track down contacts of confirmed cases, and if there has been adequate levels of testing across different regions and ethnicities.
Modelling from researchers at Te Punaha Matatini was released last week showing that an "optimistic" scenario - which New Zealand's daily numbers are tracking alongside - could see the virus contained in the country after the four-week lockdown, but only if fast contact tracing and isolation was underway. Other less optimistic scenarios with slower contact tracing shows that another outbreak will occur after the lockdown is lifted. The modelling, conducted in early April, found only a 90-day lockdown would result in the elimination of the virus.
New Zealand currently has 1349 cases of the virus, and has recorded five deaths. On Monday, only 19 new cases were announced, down from the peak of 89 on April 5. The average number of tests undertaken daily over the last week is 3230, a significant increase on two weeks ago, likely reflecting the Ministry of Health's decision to broaden testing criteria.