Coronavirus: What NZ will look like under level 3 to be revealed

By Jane Patterson for RNZ

New Zealanders will on Thursday hear more about what life and business activity might look like under alert level 3.

Cabinet ministers will decide on Monday whether to ease the tight restrictions when the initial four-week lockdown period ends on Wednesday night.

When New Zealand had 48 hours to go into full lockdown in March, life under level 3 was chaotic, uncertain and full of hurried preparations.

If the country goes into level 3 next week, a lot more work has been done to see that happen in a more orderly way.

Thousands of businesses want to know if that will mean they will be able to start trading again - even in a very limited way.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said schools might reopen on April 29, but if they did it would only be for some students.

The second term of the school year started yesterday but for now all school children are still learning from home.

Hipkins said the reopening date was not set and children were being prepared to do distance learning for as long as they might need to.

Priority could initially be given to the children of essential workers once schools started to reopen, but Hipkins said priorities past that were still not "crystal clear".

"One of the things we have to consider is what the risk factors are for different age groups. So if you consider early childhood for example, the idea that we could encourage social distancing in an early childhood environment ... there are limitations to that."

At the senior secondary level their propensity to pick up COVID-19 "appears to be higher".

The minister said schools also had a lot of flexibility already to '"slide things around" in terms of assessing NCEA so as not to disadvantage those students.

In a speech to Business New Zealand Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the emphasis would be on 'safe' rather than essential businesses. More details about what that might look like will be revealed by the Prime Minister this afternoon.

There was much debate about what had constituted an "essential service" with many businesses pushing the boundaries just to be able to keep trading. Many of those received a knock on the door and an order to close.

The government chose to go into alert level 3 for 48 hours, then into at least a week of level 4 in haste because it said every hour of delay meant a possible loss of life.

That meant the rules for people at home were not always clear, and the same for business in those first days.

Government officials have now had time to come up with clearer guidelines under level 3, which may be in place for some weeks.

Robertson said the government had taken lessons from the swift move into alert level 4, and aimed to give "as much clarity in advance" as possible.

There has been a strong tension between public health and the economy, and businesses are now pushing for more flexibility so they can try to trade in ways that meet the safety test.

They say having clarity about what is allowed, and the leeway to try new ways of doing business, will be crucial as New Zealand moves out of lockdown.