Coronavirus: What would New Zealand look like at alert level 3? Here's what we know

If the Government deems the COVID-19 lockdown successful, the current alert level 4 could be dropped to 3, which according to the Ministry of Health means more people back at work - but the specifics are still being ironed out. 

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield indicated over the weekend that there are signs the alert level 4 lockdown is having a positive effect, with the number of new cases in New Zealand slowly stabilising. 

Dr Bloomfield reiterated that during a press conference on Monday, saying there are several data points "quite comfortably showing it's levelling off at this point". 

The number of new coronavirus cases increased by 67 on Monday, bringing the total to 1106. Modelling has suggested that without such strict measures, New Zealand might have seen 4000 cases at this point. 

Asked if the levelling out of new cases means the Government could move the country into alert level 3, Dr Bloomfield said the Government would first need to see evidence of the infection rate declining rather than just stabilising. 

He said with the testing criteria changed last week - allowing doctors to test anyone with symptoms rather than just those who have been in close contact with a confirmed case or recently travelled overseas - the Government will have a clearer picture. 

"I think the amount of testing we're doing and the rate at which we are doing it compared to other countries as to where they were is right up there," Dr Bloomfield said. 

"We will continue to test with that broader case definition people who definitely need a test - there's no hindrance to the right people being tested."

Testing continued over the weekend, and the Ministry of Health has reported a rolling average of tests at 2847 per day, with a total of 3709 carried out on Sunday.

What would level 3 look like?

To get to alert level 3, the Government would need evidence that the coronavirus is starting to become contained in New Zealand. 

New Zealanders experienced alert level 3 for just 48 hours – two days before the country went into lockdown on March 26 - so we didn't get much of a feel for what being at level 3 felt like compared to level 4. 

The Government's official COVID-19 website defines alert level 3 as having mass gatherings banned, public venues closed, and a directive that "some non-essential businesses should close" – so don't expect things to fully go back to normal. 

Dr Bloomfield was asked if he could provide some clarity about exactly what businesses could open during alert level 3, but he couldn't answer it, because those details are still being worked out, he said. 

"For our part, we'll give a very clear perspective from a public health side of things as to what we need to achieve within that alert level 3, and then other parts of the Government will be good at translating that into what that means," he said. 

"And not just Government - I think the private sector will be able to put in place the sort of arrangements that will allow us to have that level of public health protection and keep us at alert level 3."

He said he would "expect that at alert level 3 we would have more widespread activity happening with more people back at work, but maintaining those strict things around physical separation, hand hygiene, and so on, to prevent infection". 

What about alert levels 1 and 2?

At alert level 2, physical distancing would still need to be practised on public transport and at work, and high-risk people would be advised to remain at home with the virus still a risk, but generally, things would start to get back to normal. 

At alert level 1, mass gatherings of more than 500 people would still be banned, and testing for the virus would continue, with physical distancing still encouraged, and we'd still be asked to bump elbows instead of shaking hands. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has ruled out the possibility of an alert level 5, and she confirmed on Monday that the current lockdown will go on for the originally planned four weeks - but she could not say if the lockdown will be extended. 

She said despite some signs the lockdown measures are having an effect on "flattening the curve", no decision has been made about whether or not it will need to be extended because "we essentially don't have the data we need yet".

There are currently 12 significant clusters of the virus in New Zealand, the top three of which are a wedding in Bluff with 63 cases, an event in Matamata with 58 cases, and a school cluster in Auckland with 72 cases. 

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