Jacinda Ardern defends alert level 2 rules amid 'confusion'

coronavirus 12/05/2020

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has tried to clear up some of the confusion around the alert level 2 rules that will come in place from Thursday.

Ardern announced on Monday that alert level 2 would begin late at 11:59pm on Wednesday evening. However, schools won't begin reopening until Monday and bars will have to wait until Thursday next week to trade again. A limit of ten people at social gatherings has also been added to the full list of rules revealed last week.

"It is about finding balance. I think what you will see is we have tried to err on the side of opening up as many businesses and, therefore, getting people back into their jobs as much as we can by actually offsetting the risk that still exists by asking New Zealanders to change their behaviour for a little while longer," Ardern told The AM Show.

"Whilst we are asking people not to socialise and mix and mingle in groups larger than ten, they can still go and do that in a restaurant or eventually in a bar. That is the way we have tried to balance some of those issues."

Two areas of confusion have been around weekend sports and bars.

The AM Show host Duncan Garner questioned the Prime Minister on whether weekend sport - often needing two full teams - would be allowed under the alert level 2 framework or if it was considered a social gathering governed by a limit of ten people. 

Ardern said that is something currently being discussed by officials.

"Professional, semi-professional sports is all kicking off again. Sports New Zealand are at the moment working with community codes," she said.

"The suggestion we have already had is there wasn't really an inclination to start opening that back up until the beginning of June. By that time, we are likely to have seen, we hope, with all the numbers going in the right direction, an opening up of the number of people that can come together for mixing and mingling anyway."

The COVID-19 website echoes that message, saying community sports organisations are working with the Government on how "sport can be restarted safely". Other recreational activities, like biking, swimming, going to the gym, boating and hunting are all allowed.

But Garner still had questions about whether the weekend sport was a social gathering, saying: "I am confused, sorry Prime Minister." 

"[Sports NZ chief executive] Peter Miskimmin just told us that the social gathering rules apply to sport at the moment, to junior sport, so no group larger than 10 can play or train."

Ardern again stressed that work remains underway to finalise details for weekend sports and that professional sport was clearer as it is considered a workplace. 

"We are just finally working through some of the details of this."

She said the limit of 10 applied to "mixing and mingling".

In regards to hospitality, while restaurants and cafes can reopen on Thursday, as long as they meet strict health and safety rules - such as spacing guests out and having a single server per table - bars can't begin trading for another week. 

The Prime Minister defended that decision by saying many of New Zealand's outbreaks have begun in social situations. The Ministry of Health had advised a longer period for bars to remain shut, but the Government found compromised on a week.

Standards already used by the Hospitality Association will be utilised to differentiate between bars and restaurants.

"Those who are there for the primary purpose of serving food can open. Those who are primarily there for serving drinks will be delayed by a week," she said.

"Those who primarily exist for the commercial purposes of just serving drinks would have to reorientate their business significantly for a week in order to abide by those rules. Some may choose to do that."