New Zealand records three new coronavirus cases ahead of decision on easing restrictions

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand reported three new coronavirus cases on Monday, ahead of a decision on whether to ease restrictions further and allow more business and recreational activities to resume after weeks of disruptions.

The Pacific nation was locked down for more than month under “level 4” restrictions that were eased by a notch on April 28. It has continued to enforce strict social measures on many of its citizens and businesses, helping prevent widespread community spread of the virus.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is expected to announce at 0400 GMT her decision on easing restrictions further and putting the country under alert level 2, which would allow retail, domestic travel and local sport to resume.

If the country moves to alert level 2, children can return to schools while staff could return to offices, Ardern has said. Malls, cafes, hairdressers and other services would be also be allowed to re-open, but the country’s borders would remain closed except for returning New Zealanders.

Three new cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, were confirmed on Monday, the health ministry said in a statement.

The cases – two hospital nurses and one related to overseas travel – bring New Zealand’s total confirmed COVID-19 infections to 1,147, the ministry said, adding that 93% of all confirmed and probable cases have recovered.

The government will unveil its annual budget on Thursday, and has warned the country would run fiscal deficits for years while debt will increase to levels well beyond previous targets due to its economic support measures.

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