COVID-19: Jacinda Ardern hints at alert level 2 rules tweak, predicts level 1 will last until vaccine

The Prime Minister has hinted the mass gathering limits currently written in the alert level 2 guidelines might be changed, and she predicts alert level 1 will last until a vaccine is found. 

The current COVID-19 alert level 2 guidelines allow mass gatherings of up to 100 people indoors and 500 outdoors, and Jacinda Ardern told More FM that's an aspect of the rules the Government has been looking at. 

"Level 2 at the moment has mass gatherings of up to 500 outdoors, it has 100 indoors, and it has a number of other restrictions that we just want to go back and look at and say, 'are we applying all of the evidence we've learnt about to the way we'll work when we're at this level'?"

The Prime Minister will announce on Thursday what alert level 2 will look like and Cabinet will decide next Monday if the nation is ready to shift out of the current alert level 3, which still restricts retail and face-to-face transaction. 

Ardern said more is known about COVID-19 since the original guidelines were written, so Cabinet has "gone through a bit of an exercise since the very beginning where, just before we're about to make decisions about what happens next, we go back and look at the settings for the next alert level".

She said alert level 3 opened up "up a few more options around people accessing food and retail online" while alert level 2, as it's currently written up, "goes the next step again, and so it opens up retail further and so on". 

"We'll be going through that to check the settings are right, but basically it means schools and things like that start to open up again."

The Ministry of Health reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday for the second day in a row, and Ardern said while that's promising the country needs to stay the course, because the Government wants to complete a virus cycle of transmission. 

"Basically, from the day someone's in contact with someone who has COVID and picks it up, they might not show up as a case for up to 14 days - that's why we quarantine people for 14 days to make sure they're clear of it.

"We haven't been in level 3 for very long. What we wanted to do at level 3 is give ourselves this full two weeks to see if we've got cases coming through. So, that's why we make the decision on Monday, before the two weeks is up, and then if we feel we're in the position, we could end up moving."

She said the Government is listening to those who are anxious about moving levels, but is also taking into consideration people's mental health, as well as those who are desperate to get back into business. 

"You hear us talking a lot about what we're looking for in cases and whether or not we have community transmission, but we are also thinking about the wider impacts.

"It is a tricky, tricky virus, and one of the things that's coming through is that people can have it for a lot longer than even two weeks... but don't tend to be symptomatic that whole time or passing it on to others."

The Prime Minister also said that when the time comes for New Zealand to shift into alert level 1, it's likely we will stay there until a vaccine has been made. 

"There is a level 1... This is what the future's going to look like for a while until a vaccine."

She said alert level 1 will still require the public to practise physical distancing where possible, to keep washing your hands regularly, and border controls will likely still be in place. 

"But actually, by and large, life feels a lot more normal than it does at any other level - but there are just a few residual things that are still hanging about.

"That's what level 1 feels a bit more like - normal, but with some things we're just going to have to live with for a while if we want to keep life normal."

The Prime Minister also gave some insight into the daily 1pm press conferences she gives often alongside Health Director-General Dr Ashley Bloomfield. 

 She said she will be given details about the number of cases at about 11am, while new COVID-19-related deaths will be reported to her straight away. 

"That is horrific," she said. "We're still in a position where I will get an individual phone call for an individual death, and I think about other parts of the world where that's jut not possible."