Virus-Free New Zealand Ending COVID Restrictions, Including Social Distancing; Rugby Kicks Off Sunday With Fans Welcome


New Zealand is due to end social distancing and all other domestic coronavirus restrictions beginning tomorrow, the government has announced. In doing so, the South Pacific nation with a population of about 5M, becomes the largest market to so far eliminate transmission of COVID-19.

Announcing today that there were no active coronavirus cases in New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, “While we’re in a safer, stronger position there’s still no easy path back to pre-COVID life, but the determination and focus we have had on our health response will now be vested in our economic rebuild.” She added, “Now we’ll safely be able to fill those planes, fill those buses and cafes will be able to get a few more tables in as well.” Ardern’s strict handling of the outbreak has drawn global praise.

The move from midnight tonight local time to so-called Level 1, also means public and private events, retail and hospitality businesses and all public transport will be able to resume operations without social distancing. There will be no limits on gathering sizes. There has been no specific word on cinemas, although they have been open for a few weeks now and would be expected to follow the easing of restrictions.

Meanwhile, New Zealand Rugby has confirmed that there will be no limit on crowd numbers when the Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa becomes the first professional sports competition in the world to see its teams play in front of fans again. The domestic club competition gets under way on Sunday with fully open stadiums.

James Cameron & Jon Landau
James Cameron & Jon Landau @jonplandau on Instagram

However, borders will remain closed to foreigners for the time being. Yet, special dispensation to enter the country was recently given to 55 crew members working on the Avatar sequels. Director James Cameron and producer Jon Landau entered the country on Sunday May 31 with Landau saying they would observe a 14-day isolation period. (It is not yet clear how today’s news may affect the the New Zealand Screen industry’s COVID-19 Health and Safety Standard and Protocols, although Avatar 2 is expected to be up and running again shortly.)

Although there were some questions surrounding why the Avatar folks were given special permission, Reuters reports that Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford defended the decision saying the border was only open to those foreigners who were important for projects with “significant economic value.” Other criteria includes having a talent that can’t be met by a local and involvement in a project which is time-critical, the New Zealand Herald noted. The NZ film industry is worth more than $2B a year and a six-month international production can create an estimated 3,000 jobs.

Meanwhile, box office in the market has recently seen week-on-week growth. We are waiting on full figures from the frame just passed, however last weekend registered a 129% jump to $71K across the Top 10 titles versus the previous session. Festival pic The Assistant, handled by Rialto Distribution, held the lead again this weekend, while the company says its Love Sarah was in 2nd place from just sneaks ahead of its June 18 release. Other titles that have been high on the charts recently include Bait, Wide Blue Yonder, Sonic The Hedgehog and Finnish comedy Master Cheng.

Citing a report from Johns Hopkins University, the NZH says New Zealand joins just eight other states with no active COVID-19 cases, including Montenegro, Papau New Guinea, the Seychelles and Fiji. In total, since the first reported case on February 28, 1,154 Kiwis contracted the virus and 22 died.

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