Surfers in New Zealand hit the waves at dawn, builders returned to construction sites and baristas fired up their espresso machines as the island nation eased a strict lockdown Tuesday amid hopeful signs the coronavirus has been all but vanquished Down Under — at least for now.
New Zealand reported just three new infections Tuesday, and the country’s health authorities said they’re winning the battle against the virus. Nevertheless, they warned people not to get complacent and to maintain social distancing.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealanders had done an incredible job to break the chain of COVID-19 transmission. She cautioned them to remain vigilant. Quoting a microbiologist, Ardern said that “there may still be some smoldering ashes out there, and they have the potential to become a wildfire again, if we give them the chance.”
With the number of new cases waning, Ardern’s government loosened New Zealand’s lockdown, which for more than a month had shuttered schools and most businesses and allowed people to leave their homes only for essential work, to buy groceries or to exercise.
Most students will continue studying from home, and workers are still required to work from home if they can, while everyone is required to maintain social distancing. But restaurants can now reopen for takeout orders, construction can restart, and golfers and surfers can ply their sports.
In neighboring Australia, authorities reopened Sydney’s Bondi Beach to swimmers and surfers on Tuesday, and hundreds returned to the water as soon as the restrictions were lifted. People can only use the beach during daylight hours, cannot linger on the sand and are counted to ensure social distancing.
Worldwide, the death toll from coronavirus infections has topped 210,000. The number of dead in the U.S. surpassed 56,000. Italy, Britain, Spain and France accounted for more than 20,000 deaths each.