COVID-19 alert level 2 details set to be announced: Here's what we know so far

coronavirus 07/05/2020

The Government is set to announce official details of alert level 2, but already a number of hints indicate what it could look like, with the Prime Minister hinting that large gatherings will still be ruled out. 

The alert level guidelines were written up by the Government in haste during a time when not a lot was known about the coronavirus COVID-19 or how badly it could affect New Zealand. 

It quickly spread across the globe, and has so far infected more than 3.7 million people, claiming the lives of more than 258,000. On the bright side, more than 1.2 million people have recovered from it. 

New Zealand - with 1488 cases and 21 deaths so far - has remained relatively unscathed, compared to the likes of the United States where more than 1.2 million people have contracted the virus and more than 72,000 have died. 

The Government introduced an alert level system in New Zealand on March 21 as the number of COVID-19 cases began to rise, and the country was put into alert level 4 lockdown less than a week later on March 26. 

We came out of alert level 4 more than a month later after a slight extension, finally reaching alert level 3 on April 27, but that’s left retail unable to operate to this day, because of the risk of face-to-face interaction, so many businesses are still un-operational.  

The Prime Minister promised Cabinet would review level 3 in two weeks' time – reflecting the cycle of the virus transmission - and that time is coming up. We will know next Monday, May 11, if level 2 is to be implemented. 

It was only in the last week that we finally had two consecutive days with no new cases, sparking hope for retail businesses that desperately need customers, and they're backed by the Opposition who are pressuring the Government to be lenient. 

Going by the current level 2 guidelines, retail would finally make a comeback, community venues such as pools and museums would open again, while weddings, funerals and tangihanga would be able to go ahead without the current 10-person limit. 

The current level 2 guidelines indicate a restriction of gatherings of up to 100 people indoors and 500 outdoors. That means all of a sudden you'd be able to host a pretty big party at your home with up to 100 people. 

That's something the Prime Minister doesn't seem too keen on. 

She told More FM: "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'?"

She 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 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."

Going by the current level 2 guidelines, this is what it could look like.

Dining in at restaurants

It's likely we'll go back to that recording system at dine-in venues. You might recall when alert level 2 was introduced briefly back in March and you had to write down your name and contact details at restaurants and bars. 

The official alert level 2 guidelines state: "All gatherings must record attendees to ensure contact tracing may be conducted if necessary."

Going to community venues

The current rules say public venues will finally open, as long as they comply with the mass gathering conditions, so you'll be able to visit your local community pool or the museum. 

Playing sports 

Sport and recreation will make a comeback under alert level 2, with activities allowed if conditions on gatherings are met and physical distancing is followed, the rules say. The Warriors have already been given special permission to travel to Australia to compete in the NRL.

Getting a medical procedure

The current rules indicate shifting to alert level 2 will bring relief to those who have had medical procedures put on hold during the COVID-19 crisis. Health and disability care services will "operate normally as far as possible" when that time comes. 

Attending school and university

All educational facilities will open at level 2, the rules say, but any facility connected to a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19 will have to close for 72 hours to allow contact tracing. Some school students have returned during alert level 3, but only those whose parents need to go to work. 

Travelling in New Zealand and abroad

The current rules say domestic travel will be allowed at alert level 2. But Finance Minister Grant Robertson indicated last week that may change, and inter-regional travel might not be allowed. 

"We do know that travel has been an issue in terms of transmission of the virus, and so we have to make decisions that uphold our public health guidelines. But we absolutely understand that for domestic tourism, particularly, that's the lifeline for the tourism industry."

But the Prime Minister has acknowledged that inter-regional travel will be important for the domestic tourism industry which has suffered greatly from the lack of international tourism it's relied on for so long. 

She and her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison have confirmed plans for a trans-Tasman 'bubble' that would enable travel between the two countries without the need for the current two-week quarantine upon arrival. 

But don't expect that to happen anytime soon, Ardern said. 

In the long-term, once the trans-Tasman deal has been made, the Government is planning to expand it out to the Pacific Islands, the majority of whom have largely steered clear of the virus so far.

The Prime Minister is expected to announce details of alert level 2 at her daily 1pm press conference. 

By Zane Small, Newshub.