Hugs, rugby on the agenda as New Zealand continues to ease the block

WELLINGTON Super rugby in New Zealand is ready to resume when the country relaxes its COVID-19 lockdown, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern He said Thursday, with bars, shops and schools that will also open their doors.

Ardern is expected to announce next Monday whether New Zealand will go to 'Alert Level 2', allowing significantly more freedom than the kiwis have experienced since the shutdown began in late March.

While emphasizing that a decision had not yet been made, Ardern acknowledged that New Zealand's success in containing the virus had put him in a good position to relax the rules cautiously.

Think of us as halfway to Everest, he said.

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It is clear that no one wants to climb that peak again and the descent is known to be even more dangerous.

New Zealand, with a population of five million, has registered 1,139 coronavirus cases and 21 deaths.

The number of new cases has been in the single digits since April 14, with only one new infection registered on Thursday.

Under New Zealand's four-tier alert system, social distancing protocols are applied less strictly at tier two, allowing for contact sports, including the national game of rugby.

Professional sport may resume at home at level two, Ardern said.

" Super rugby and the netball premiership have already confirmed their intention to resume a domestic competition, which I know will be cause for great excitement."

New Zealand's five Super rugby teams have been out of action since the lockdown began and the game's governing body said once clearance was confirmed it would have a competition running within four weeks.

We are delighted with our fans that at best we will have high quality rugby on our screens next month. New Zealand Rugby director Mark Robinson said.

He said the competition would see all five teams play more than 10 rounds in closed stadiums.

Ardern emphasized that New Zealand's borders would remain closed and that the kiwis would have to adjust to a new normal at level two.

"It's designed to get as many people back to work as possible and get the economy running, but safely," she said.

Bars and restaurants can reopen, but with a maximum of 100 people, while hairdressers and beauticians must wear personal protective equipment.

Malls and other outlets will be operational again, while schools will have full classes after undergoing a skeletal operation in recent weeks.

Domestic travel will also be allowed, providing a boost to the affected tourism industry.

General director of the health department Ashley Bloomfield welcomed the prospect of more relaxed rules.

"For my part, I'm looking forward to giving some of my more extended family members and friends a careful hug," he said.

But for coworkers and people I meet for the first time, I'm probably left with a bump on the elbow.