Coronavirus: Level 2 restrictions to be reviewed every two weeks - Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed that restrictions under alert level 2 of the COVID-19 response will be reviewed every two weeks in order to phase in additional activity incrementally.

It comes as bars and clubs prepare to reopen under a 'new normal' on Thursday, with seated patrons and physical distancing measures.

The first fortnightly review will be completed by Cabinet on Monday.

It was announced that Cabinet will review the cap on social gatherings under alert level 2 protocol this coming Monday. Currently, only 10 people are permitted to attend group activities or gatherings in social settings, whether it be in public spaces or in the home. For public events, outdoor events or inside businesses, there should be no more than 100 patrons at any given time. 

"We do intend to keep phasing in additional activity under level 2 when the evidence shows we can with low to little risk of further outbreaks," Ardern said during a media briefing on Wednesday.

"Countries that are relaxing their rules are experiencing some spikes in case numbers - we shouldn't be so bold to assume that couldn't or wouldn't happen here... one case can become 90, and it would only take a few cases of those for us to go back into lockdown."

Although New Zealand's last case of community transmission from an unknown source was recorded in the beginning of the April, Ardern reiterated that "COVID is still present in New Zealand and around the world" and risks will need to be managed. 

Although additional activity will be incrementally allowed under the level 2 guidelines, Ardern reiterated that ongoing management of the COVID-19 risk will be expected - including the adherence to public health measures. 

"We will maintain that underlying wall of defence - surveillance testing, contact tracing, physical distancing, staying at home even with mild illness, hand washing, tight border measures... our new normal."

Ardern noted that any future changes, such as the potential gathering cap increase, would follow a similar pattern to previous decisions: an announcement on the Monday, coming into effect 48 hours later.

The Prime Minister also addressed what level 1 could potentially look like for New Zealand, reiterating that while it wouldn't be a complete return to "the status quo", most restrictions that have previously inhibited normal business activity would be removed. 

"There will be basic, ongoing parameters," she said, noting that public health measures - such as hand hygiene, staying at home when sick, and some border restrictions - will still be adhered to. 

"Amendments to the border rules can occur at any level also, so it's possible to have a trans-Tasman bubble at level 2.

"I envisage we will stay in level 2 until the Director-General of Health has the confidence that we can de-escalate further."

No new cases of COVID-19 were recorded on Wednesday, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield confirmed, keeping New Zealand's overall case total at 1503. 

Dr Bloomfield and the Prime Minister held two separate press conferences on Wednesday, instead of their usual joint briefing.