World

New Zealand retail stores and restaurants reopening

New Zealand dropped most of its lockdown restrictions Thursday as the South Pacific nation of five million prepared itself for a new normal after seeing less than two-dozen COVID-19 deaths so far during the pandemic.

Malls, retail stores and gyms among businesses reopening Thursday, with schools to return Monday

A contactless takeaway pickup area is seen at La Thai restaurant on Wednesday in Akaroa, New Zealand. Restaurants, cinemas, retail, playgrounds and gyms are now able to reopen with physical distancing and strict hygiene measures in place. (Kai Schoewerer/Getty Images)

New Zealand dropped most of its lockdown restrictions at 11:59 p.m. local time Wednesday as the South Pacific nation of five million prepared itself for a new normal.

Many workers were preparing to return to their places of employment as malls, retail stores and restaurants were set to reopen Thursday. But most gatherings will be limited to 10 people and physical distancing guidelines will remain in place.

The reopening reflects the success New Zealand has experienced in its bold goal of eliminating the novel coronavirus. The country reported no new cases of the virus on Tuesday and Wednesday. More than 1,400 of the nearly 1,500 people who contracted COVID-19 have recovered, while 21 have died.

Barber Conrad Fitz-Gerald decided to reopen his shop at midnight (Wednesday 8 a.m. ET). Fitz-Gerald said he'd had about 50 inquiries for midnight haircuts, but limited the initial customers to a dozen, starting with his 18-year-old son. He planned to then go home and return at 6 a.m. for another round of cuts.

"People are saying their hair is out of control, they can't handle it anymore," he said. "Lots of parents of teenage kids have been calling up, too, thinking a haircut at midnight would be a great novelty. Unfortunately, we are full up."

Masks not mandatory

Fitz-Gerald said he was trying to make sure the virus couldn't spread in his shop, Cathedral Junction Barbers in Christchurch. He said he'd made his own "supercharged" hand sanitizer from isopropyl alcohol and also had masks available for himself and his customers on request.

Health authorities in New Zealand have recommended that barbers wear masks, but haven't made it mandatory.

Cathedral Junction Barbers owner Conrad Fitz-Gerald cuts the hair of his son Heathcliff just past midnight in Christchurch, as he opened to customers Thursday who couldn't wait to trim their unruly locks. (Mark Baker/The Associated Press)

Most New Zealand schools will reopen Monday but bars won't reopen until May 21, a decision that was prompted in part by the experience in South Korea, which has seen a spike in coronavirus cases linked to nightclubs in Seoul.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Southern Hemisphere nation faces the most challenging economic conditions since the Great Depression.

"New Zealand is about to enter a very tough winter," she said. "But every winter eventually is followed by spring, and if we make the right choices we can get New Zealanders back to work and our economy moving quickly again."

The nation's reopening coincides with the release of the government's annual budget on Thursday afternoon.

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