May 25 (UPI) — As global infections surpassed 5.5 million on Monday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the limit on gatherings will be expanded to 100 people by the week’s end.
“We want to get our economy moving quickly without losing the gains we have made to date,” she said during a press conference.
The archipelago nation has been one of the fastest to bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic through issuing strict lockdown measures in mid-March, which have since been slowly eased.
Currently in level two, the second-lowest of its four-level lockdown measure, New Zealand has permitted gatherings of up to 10 people, but staring Friday that limit will be upped to 100, Ardern said.
The increased limit on gatherings follows Ardern having said the government will regularly adjust restrictions to allow for more activity when medical advice permits it. New Zealand moved to level 2 on May 14.
Ardern said its drop in cases despite easing of restrictions runs counter to what other countries have experienced and that is due to New Zealanders following the rules to maintain social distancing.
The expanded limit on gatherings, she said, will still prevent large concerts but more events can occur from noon Friday when the measure goes into effect.
“These changes are good news for business and for those who look to plan larger gatherings,” she said. “It’s another step in renormalizing life as we continue to stamp out the virus.”
The government will look to move to alert level 1 as quickly as possible with lawmakers to re-examine the situation on June 8, she said.
Ardern added that Tourism New Zealand has kicked off a new campaign targeting residents to explore parts of the country they haven’t visited before to help revive the economy and tourism sector and that she encourages those who are able to take advantage of the opportunity to do so.
“I’m still in the process of locking down my plans for the weekend but I do intend as much as I can to get out and about and support our local economy as well,” she said.
In neighboring Australia, schools in New South Wales and Queensland reopened on Monday with their premiers encouraging people to continue to work from home if possible to relieve pressure on the transit system.
“I am very pleased that the system hasn’t been overwhelmed,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said during a press conference.
Australia, like New Zealand, has fared better than most countries amid the COVID-19 pandemic, recording 7,109 total cases and 102 deaths from the virus. The ministry of health reported four new cases in the past 24 hours.
Oceania nations have so far fought off the worst of the pandemic with stringent lockdown measures, recording a total of 8,726 cases and 123 deaths, according to worldometers.info.
Globally, the number of coronavirus cases surpassed the grim 5.5 million infections milestone on Monday with the virus’ death toll climbing toward 350,000.
The United States leads the world in both total cases with nearly 1.7 million infections and almost 100,000 deaths.