COVID-19 alert level 1 rules to be announced: Just how much freedom can we expect?

It's been more than two months since the Prime Minister introduced a COVID-19 alert level system and enforced a nationwide lockdown - and we're finally on the cusp of things getting back to normal. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will reveal the official rules for alert level 1 at a press conference at 1:30pm on Wednesday and you can watch it live on Newshub. 

So, just how much freedom can expect? It's understood there will be no mass gathering rules anymore, but the border will remain closed until the international community has caught up with us. 

But we cannot be 100 percent sure what the rules will be. 

For example, the level 2 rules announced by the Prime Minister on May 7 said all businesses could open. But a week later, Ardern said bars and nightclubs would have to wait another week - so, we shouldn't rule out any curveballs.  

The Prime Minister said on Tuesday her Cabinet has agreed to review the current level 2 settings next Monday June 8, when Government ministers will decide if the time is right for level 1 - two weeks before it was anticipated. 

Ardern told The AM Show that over the weekend she asked her office to contact the Ministry of Health and "raise the option" of a move out of alert level 2 as soon as next week. 

There have been no new cases of the coronavirus in New Zealand for more than a week now and the Prime Minister said the Government's expectations have been exceeded. 

"We are ahead of where we expected to be at this point. That is why I am so grateful to the efforts of New Zealanders. They're the ones who have put us in the position to be able to be considering earlier a move to level 1."

Kiwis have been living under level 2 since May 14 - more than two weeks ago - and it was only on Friday when gatherings of up to 100 people were permitted for the first time since the lockdown began back in March. 

The Prime Minister said she has always been open to the idea of easing the restrictions early if the number of new cases remained continuously low. 

The Government had planned to review the level 1 settings on June 8 and consider the move to level 1 "no later" than June 22. 

"We always gave ourselves that room based on what we might see and we've done that all the way through. If we've seen us make progress, we've always been willing to adjust along the way," Ardern told The AM Show. 

How long could we be at level 1?

The Prime Minister told More FM last month that when the time comes for us to shift to 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."

Last week the Government pledged $37 million to help secure a COVID-19 vaccine "at the earliest possible time" and ensure New Zealand is kept in the loop on international research efforts. 

Health Minister David Clark said the development of a vaccine is a "crucial tool in the control of COVID-19 worldwide" and that a "global effort is well underway" to develop a vaccine and test it on candidates.

Why wait another week?

The Prime Minister said despite the consistently low number of new cases, there are still risks, such as asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus - that's people who carry the disease but do not suffer from it or show symptoms.  

"We want to be absolutely certain that when we remove all the restrictions... we want to be absolutely certain before we move to that place." 

Was it political pressure?

The Prime Minister insisted a potential earlier-than-expected shift from level 2 would have nothing to do with pressure from the Deputy Prime Minister or the Black Lives Matter protest over the weekend. 

The protest in Auckland CBD on Monday saw thousands of people march in solidarity with George Floyd, an African-American man who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck during an arrest. 

The huge protest broke the current cap of 100 people at gatherings, which ACT leader David Seymour described as a "slap in the face" of businesses who have followed the rules. 

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters tweeted: "If the authorities allow this to occur then we should be at level 1 tomorrow."

The Prime Minister said she condoned the message of the protesters but not their actions. 

"They have breached the rules. It was not right. New Zealanders have given up a lot and I need to keep asking the team of 5 million to stay together so we can reach the finish line.

"The Deputy Prime Minister has a view and so do other members around the Cabinet table who I always seek for consensus and balance in these decisions.

"But ultimately, what is driving the decision to consider on 8 June that move to level 1 is the data, the cases, and that has to be what drives our decision-making."