Level 1: relief but caution

Near-normal  life is back. Concerts, sports events and parties are again allowed, but while people in the South are excited about living with fewer restrictions, notes of caution continue to be sounded.

New Zealand, outside of Auckland, is now at Covid-19 Alert Level 1. Auckland will move to Level 2 tomorrow night.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the easing of restrictions yesterday.

There were no new cases of Covid-19 yesterday. But a consistent message pervaded the new freedom — people should not become complacent.

Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins urged people to continue using the Covid-19 contact tracing apps.

“We should rightly be pleased to see the step down to Alert Level 1, but we need to remember how easily that can change."

Everyone needed to do their bit to keep the virus under control and away from the most vulnerable community members, he said.

Dunedin City Council services and facilities will return to normal from today.

The Southern District Health Board shared a similar message, saying southerners should continue to take health and hygiene precautions.

Medical Officer of Health Dr Susan Jack said hand hygiene, physical distancing, and appropriate mask use remained simple yet important ways to keep the community safe.

People who were unwell must not visit others in hospital, and visitors and staff would still need to trace contacts and use hand sanitiser, she said.

WellSouth medical director Stephen Graham said general practices across the region would continue to provide free Covid-19 testing, and anyone with symptoms should get tested.

It will no longer be mandatory to wear face coverings on public transport and planes outside Auckland, but it is encouraged.

Otago Regional Council transport manager Garry Maloney said there would be no major changes to bus services in Dunedin and Queenstown.

Following government guidance, physical distancing requirements were eased on buses last week.

Passengers on buses could sit on any seat, but would be encouraged to physically distance where possible, and face coverings were no longer strictly required, Mr Maloney said.

Level 1 will also allow concerts, community events, major sports fixtures and conferences to return.

Dunedin Venues chief executive Terry Davies said the move to Level 1 "fundamentally means that [it] is back in business".

A Benee concert at the town hall could go ahead, as would the Dunedin Craft Beer and Food Festival on October 30-31.

The Otago rugby team’s next Mitre 10 Cup game at Forsyth Barr Stadium could now be played in front of a crowd on October 4.

For Southland supporter Tony Rabbitt, being able to attend the Stags’ home game against North Harbour at Rugby Park Stadium in Invercargill on Saturday was priceless.

"With the locals cheering them along, it creates a really good atmosphere."

It will also mark the first time the Southland Supporters Club, of which Mr Rabbitt is president, will be able to return to the clubrooms after its closure 15 months ago due to toxic mould.

"All we need now is a win on Saturday."

In Alexandra, blossom festival co-ordinator Martin McPherson was "delighted" the annual celebration would go ahead and believed it could be one of the largest events to take place since the pandemic struck.

Businesses would also be able to operate as usual again, including having large gatherings, Otago Southland Employers Association chief executive Virginia Nicholls said.

The relaxing of costly social distancing and single-server rules would be welcomed by the hospitality industry.

Dunedin businesses and people on the city’s streets appeared to be rejoicing about the move to Level 1 yesterday.

Dunedin Social Club acting manager Matiu Spring said he and other bar owners he had spoken to were "stoked".

"Legally, people can’t actually come up and have a chat at the bar. Level 2 really takes something away from our service, so we’re very excited."

People on the street were generally pleased, but wary, about the drop in alert levels.

Hotel employee Debby George said because the whole country was not yet free of Covid-19, Dunedin was not in the clear.

But some people thought the level change should have been made earlier.

Otago Chamber of Commerce chief executive Dougal McGowan said the South should have been at Alert Level 1 a lot sooner.

"... that’s caused a lot more hurt for many businesses than what was necessary."

Not being able to hold large gatherings and events had caused the most pain for local businesses, he said. — Additional reporting Karen Pasco

What Level 1 means

  • Social and business restrictions lifted.
  • Tighter border controls remain in place.
  • Staying at home while sick remains important.
  • Large-scale events return.
  • Public encouraged to continue tracking movements and contacts.
  • Face masks not compulsory, but recommended in situations where physical distancing difficult.
  • Be ready in case Covid-19 reappears.


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