Auckland exits lockdown as New Zealand again eyes Covid-19 elimination

Police and military personnel check vehicles leaving the city at a Covid-19 check point in Auckland, on Aug 14, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

WELLINGTON (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - New Zealand's largest city has exited lockdown after the government said a Covid-19 outbreak there has been brought under control and it remains on track to again eliminate the virus from the community.

Auckland schools and customer-facing businesses re-opened on Monday (Aug 31) and a ban on travelling out of the city was lifted, almost three weeks after the outbreak prompted the reintroduction of restrictions.

Social distancing requirements remain in place for the whole country under level 2 restrictions and everyone from the age of 12 is now required to wear a mask on public transport.

Ms Ardern said on Monday that she was confident the new measure would be taken up across New Zealand, adding that "a bit of smiling with the eyes behind the mask" and kindness to Aucklanders in particular, would help get the country through the latest outbreak.

"We have a plan that we know will work. We just need everyone's compliance and help. If everyone sticks to those guidelines and rules, coupled together with all the public health measures that we have, we can make this work," Ms Ardern, wearing a mask herself, told reporters in Auckland.

The government expects to further review all alert settings by Sept 6.

Students in Auckland returned to school after many weeks of disruptions.

"To me it's so good for them to go back to school. Online work, online school is alright but it's still not good enough for them. So it's good to get out of the house," said one parent.

New Zealand became the envy of the world earlier this year when it succeeded in eliminating community transmission of the coronavirus by imposing a strict nationwide lockdown.

Ms Ardern said the government continues to pursue an elimination strategy and is confident it can stamp out the outbreak in Auckland, home to about a third of New Zealand's five million people.

The Auckland cluster has grown to 135 cases in total, and the government expects new infections among close contacts to continue for some time.

The source of the outbreak is still being investigated.

New Zealand has 137 active cases, 20 of which are returnees from overseas who were quarantined on arrival.

Restrictions in Auckland remain slightly stricter than in the rest of the country, with gatherings limited to 10 and people encouraged to wear masks in public spaces.

Ms Ardern called Auckland's settings "level 2.5" and wouldn't rule out imposing broader mask-wearing requirements if people don't abide by the current rules.

"Our system is good, it is designed to keep us on track with our elimination strategy at level 2, in the scenario we now have, but it will only work if people follow the guidance," she said.

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