Fans may return to New Zealand stadia fold


New Zealand Sky Stadium Image: Sky Stadium

It is very likely that professional sport in New Zealand will welcome fans back to the stadium fold as early as next week with the Government all set to decide whether to lift all social distancing restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 bane which has caused upheaval globally.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will decide on Monday whether the country is ready to bring its alert system down to Level 1, which would lift curbs on mass gatherings that were imposed to arrest the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Crowded stadiums and restaurants packed with people could soon be a reality in New Zealand as the Government eyes an early move to eliminating nearly all remaining domestic coronavirus restrictions.

Eleven days without new coronavirus cases have led to demands from business groups, as well as the Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand, Winston Peters, to relax COVID-19 rules in place completely and be the first country in the world to do so.

Ardern informed that full details of what Level 1 will be like will be released later this week, but all remaining restrictions on physical distancing and mass gatherings will be removed, with only some type of contact tracing and a tough barrier at the border remaining in place.

“For the most part, New Zealanders and what they’ll be experiencing day-to-day is actually very close to normality,” she commented.

The Prime Minister told mediapersons that the change could be given the go-ahead by the Cabinet as early as next Monday and would take effect 48 hours later.

“Moving to Level 1 so soon, we will be one of the first countries in the world to experience a coronavirus outbreak and then return to that level of normality,” she pointed out.

If the restrictions are lifted, it would allow fans to attend the opening round matches of New Zealand’s ‘Super Rugby Aotearoa’ tournament starting on June 13, and it will be a triumph for the domestic game which has suffered huge financial losses due to the coronavirus shutdown.

“At Level 1, all current rules on businesses and services are essentially lifted. Sports and concert stadiums can be sold out,” Ardern informed.

She said the government was working with stadiums to create a ‘COVID code’ to make certain that contact tracing was in place in case sports fans tested positive for the fatal respiratory disease.

“For those larger events it is a matter of preparedness for us. We may be confident that we’re an environment where we do not have COVID in circulation,” she further added.

Professional sport returned to the country on Wednesday with the opening day of the ‘NZ Premier League Tennis’ tournament at Auckland’s closed Albany Stadium, a NZ$90,000 ($57,700) event whose objective is to give local-based players a chance to earn income.

Organizers informed they would look at opening the three-week event to fans if the Government gives the nod next week.

New Zealand recorded no new cases of coronavirus for the 12th consecutive day on Wednesday and has just one active case.

New Zealand Rugby boss Mark Robinson told mediapersons that the positive outlook was “breathing a huge amount of life into the game”.

“There are a lot of things to be optimistic about for the second half of the year,” he asserted.

If greenlighted, the change would mean rugby teams could begin filling stadiums when teams are ready to face each other in a few weeks. Public transport platforms could be bustling again as trains and buses fill to capacity.

Travel within the country will be encouraged for everyone except New Zealanders feeling unwell. They’ll be asked to stay home and get tested as soon as possible if their symptoms require the same.

Ardern had announced recently that June 22 was the latest date Cabinet would consider approving a move to Level 1. Since then, Peters has repeatedly urged for a faster decision.

The Prime Minister told mediapersons it wasn’t pressure from her Deputy Peters which brought about the change. Instead, Cabinet is responding to a health recovery from the coronavirus that is exceeding the Government’s models.

“There is increasing optimism that we will not see any cases within the transmission cycle since moving to Level 2,” she said.

Any new cases would mean a rapid return up the alert levels, something Ardern said she wants to avoid.

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