Bars, clubs, stadiums and venues are set to fill up again after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday indicated New Zealand may move to alert level 1 next week, removing all restrictions on mass gatherings.

And many Northlanders can't wait for level 1 to start.

Under level 1, there will be no distancing rules at shops and restaurants, and all restrictions on businesses, like hospitality, would be lifted with no distancing of tables, Ardern said.

Churches, sports stadiums, community sport, and funerals of any size can all resume while physical distancing on planes and public transport can lift.

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For Northland artists and event organisers, the announcement means they can now start planning larger happenings and gigs again after those completely dropped off since Covid-19.

Luke Revell, co-owner of The Butter Factory in Whangārei, said "the coronavirus took everything off the cards in terms of events, which was really hard".

Under normal circumstance, the Whangārei-based bar hosts various events – music gigs, poetry and comedian nights, a beer club, and jam sessions.

Revell has already been in touch with musicians to plan ahead for a post-lockdown time and said while some were reluctant to return to the stage too soon as they wanted to do their bit in stopping the Covid-19 spread, others were ready to play again.

During levels 3 and 4 alone, The Butter Factory had to cancel between 20-30 events, plus up to another 30 cancellations before and after that period.

But Revell sees a silver lining, saying lockdown would have giving artists time to get creative: "I believe there will be a lot of great music coming out of this."

He said since NZ artists weren't able to travel overseas for concerts, Whangārei could see some bigger names coming to the North, soon.

Another positive step forward was the way he and his brother Brad Revell run their business.

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"Under the level 2 restrictions, we were forced to operate more like a restaurant and not only a bar, which has been a good step for us."

Revell said The Butter Factory would continue the new way of servicing customers beyond level 2.

"We're not changing what Butters is, we're just expanding our services."

Jesse Samu and Grayson Barnes from Whangārei band Otium at the Bay of Islands Music Festival this year. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Jesse Samu and Grayson Barnes from Whangārei band Otium at the Bay of Islands Music Festival this year. Photo / Peter de Graaf

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For Whangārei band Otium, lockdown meant exactly what Revell predicted: a chance to write music.

"At first it was a big shock for us, going from what is usually the busiest time of the year in terms of concerts to absolutely nothing," Otium lead guitarist Scott Wynne said.

But it gave the band the opportunity to compose new tunes and to "swish out some ideas that have been floating around for a while".

Wynne said the music was now ready to be recorded and they were looking at producing a new EP.

The next step would be a national tour. Australia or other countries that might join the transtasman travel bubble might be on the cards at some point, however, the band would have to do more research "before taking that plunge".

While all of the Otium musicians had other income sources, at least two of the five-member band relied mainly on income from their music, Wynne said.

Artists needed support from their fans and community, and people could help by listening to their favourite local band, buy their merchandise or go their gigs as soon as they start playing again.

Otium band member Scott Wynne. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Otium band member Scott Wynne. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Relief about the possible move to level 1 also comes from the events team at the Whangārei District Council.

After having to cancel 38 events due to Covid-19, WDC's venues and events manager Carina de Graaf regarded the move towards level 1 as a good step forward.

"It's absolutely positive for our district, as well as for the venues. For our city it means we can open up our event planning, though we will have to patiently wait for next week, when the Government makes the final announcement."

Among the cancelled events was the Fritter Festival – a big day out in the Whangārei events calendar, which was planned for late March. Council had to postpone another 27 of its events for later this year.

She said bringing events back would be a great chance to show how much people care and support local artists and event organisers.

"We have so much talent in New Zealand and Northland. It's about supporting those who go through the trouble of organising something in whatever way people feel comfortable."

Northland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Steve Smith said the next month would be crucial for a lot of businesses.

"After seeing a steep increase in the first week in level 2, the business volume is fractionally down this week. The big question will be, is this sustainable? Are we looking at a significant decrease again or will business settle again?"

He said while it was hard to predict what the coming weeks would bring, people in business had reasonable expectations.

Cabinet will review the alert-level status next Monday.

The Government's 10 golden rules of alert level 1
• If you're sick, stay home.
• If you have cold or flu symptoms call your doctor.
• Wash your hands.
• Sneeze or cough into your elbow and disinfect surfaces.
• Isolate immediately if told so by authorities.
• If you have underlying conditions, talk to your GP about precautions.
• Keep track of where you've been.
• Businesses should help.
• Stay vigilant.
• Be kind to others and to yourself.

Word on the street

We asked Whangārei residents what they think about a potential move to level 1 next week.

David Wetere. Photos / Michael Cunningham
David Wetere. Photos / Michael Cunningham

David Wetere:

"I would like to last it [level 2] a bit longer, to make sure the virus is truly exterminated."

Alana Williams.
Alana Williams.

Alana Williams:

"This is my first time outside - my husband is medically compromised. If health practitioners and experts say it's safe to move, that's amazing as long as we keep the borders closed."

Timothy Brown.`
Timothy Brown.`

Timothy Brown:

"It [level 2] could go on for a little bit longer. I think it's a bit fast. Better safe than sorry."

Louis Wells.
Louis Wells.

Louis Wells

:

"I don't think it's too bad. The worst would be to open the borders. But we already went up to 100 people and that was good."

Evan Heasman.
Evan Heasman.

Evan Heasman:

"I feel like it's going into the right direction. I still walk around town cautiously. A lot of people seemed to have moved [to level 1] already."

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