New Zealand moves to COVID-19 alert level 1 from midnight

The Prime Minister has confirmed New Zealand will move to alert level 1 from midnight, now that there are no known active cases of COVID-19 in the country.

Things will be just about back to normal for Kiwis after the move to level 1, with social distancing no longer required and no more limits on gatherings - but the border will remain closed to non-New Zealanders.

Hospitality providers will no longer have to ensure guests are seated and only served by one waiter, and night clubs will be able to fully open, with the Government hoping to control any potential future outbreaks with contact tracing.

Jacinda Ardern said despite having now new cases of COVID-19 for more than two weeks, New Zealand will "almost certainly see cases here again", and she is urging Kiwis to be prepared. 

"The world will remain in the grip of a global pandemic for some time to come and we will see cases here again, which we must remain prepared for."

But the Prime Minister said the move to level 1 is something to be proud of. 

"With care and commitment our team of 5 million has united to protect New Zealanders' health and ensure we now have a head-start on our economic recovery," she said. 

"At alert level 1 we become one of the most open economies in the world and now we must seize our advantage of going hard and early to beat COVID-19 and use the same focus and determination we applied to our health response to rebuild our economy."

The move to level 1 comes ahead of the original schedule. The Government planned to consider the move to level 1 on June 22 - but Ardern had a change of heart early last week after there had been no new cases for more than a week.

Kiwis have been living under level 2 since May 14 - more than three weeks ago - but gatherings of up to 100 people were only given the green-light 10 days ago.

Despite pressure last week to move to level 1, Ardern said she wanted to wait one more week to be absolutely sure there were no new cases as a result of those increased gatherings - and on Monday those concerns were satisfied.  

The Ministry of Health confirmed there are no longer any active cases of the coronavirus in New Zealand, after the last case - linked to the St Margaret's Rest Home cluster in Auckland - had been symptom-free for 48 hours.

It's the first time since February 28 that there has been no active cases in New Zealand, which Health Director-General Ashley Bloomfield described as a "significant mark" in the country's journey.

But he is still urging New Zealanders to remain vigilant, because the individual who was the final case of COVID-19 had initially tested negative for the virus and was tested positive after a second test.

There is also no confirmed date as to when a trans-Tasman travel bubble will be established, as Australia still has more than 400 active cases.

The Prime Minister said last week that while the current restrictions will end at level 1, New Zealanders "do need new behaviours to start", particularly with the risk of a future breakout.

"It does not mean our battle with the virus is over. COVID is still in the world with over 100,000 cases being reported daily, including in most of the countries we have close connections with," Ardern said.

"So, at level 1 we all need to adopt new behaviours in order to keep any future cases of COVID under control, particularly public health measures like hand hygiene, to reduce the risk of transmission when new cases pop up, and enhance contact tracing."

There are still more than 3 million active cases of the virus worldwide, with a third of them in the United States - so the Government still faces a lot of uncertainty on the prospect of opening up the border anytime soon.

Nevertheless, the fact there is no longer any known cases of the virus in New Zealand is something Dr Bloomfield says Kiwis should "take hear from". 

The PM wants Kiwis to follow these guidelines:

  1. If you are sick stay home
  2. If you have cold or flu-like symptoms, get a COVID-19 test
  3. Regularly wash your hands
  4. Sneeze and cough into your elbow
  5. If you're told by health authorities to self-isolate, do it
  6. Work with your GP if you heave underlying health issues and are at higher risk
  7. Keep track of where you have been to help contact tracers
  8. Businesses should help Kiwis with contact tracing by displaying QR codes
  9. Be prepared for a move up alert levels if we need to
  10. Be kind to others