VIRUS LATEST
* Almost 3.8 million cases globally, with 263,330 deaths - NZ has just 136 active cases
* Donald Trump in new coronavirus scare - close aide tests positive
* Your essential level-2 guide: the rules and all you need to know
* KFC and Guns N' Roses: Inside Ashley Bloomfield's bubble
* Out-of-work flight attendants turning to strip clubs, say the strip clubs
* Latest developments and essential information

New Zealanders will be able to return to friends, the shops, restaurants and hairdressers under level 2 of the Covid-19 alert system – but the Prime Minister has warned it might happen in stages rather than all at once.

And Finance Minister Grant Robertson acknowledged today some in the hospitality industry might still find it too tough to operate under the new rules.

While a shift to level 2 will allow many more businesses to re-open after almost two months of lockdown, the news was offset by a grim warning from Robertson that next week's Budget will show a sea of red ink: deficits for years to come and much higher debt levels for the Government.

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As New Zealand stays on top of the health impacts of Covid, that's not the case globally - and in the US and UK especially. Britain announced overnight its own lockdown would be extended three more weeks , with the country's death toll now at almost 31,000 people.

In the US, a member of the military serving as one of President Donald Trump's valets has tested positive for coronavirus, the White House said. It said Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence have since tested negative for the virus and "remain in good health".


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Back in New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday set out what the rules for level 2 will be when the Government decides to move to that point – a decision Cabinet will wrestle with next Monday.

However, Ardern said it was a big leap from level 3 and she would take the lead from director general of health Ashley Bloomfield on when and how to do that.

"It is a large step from where we are now, so when it comes the time to move we want to move with confidence. If the advice is to move in a phased way because level 2 taken all at once has too many risks, I would rather take that advice and move out slowly."

She said she would prefer to take a staged approach if the alternative was staying in level 3 for longer.

That could see some of the higher risk businesses and activities held back from the initial introduction of level 2.

The main concern is likely to be places and times where people would gather for social events, such as at pubs, weddings and parties.

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Robertson told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking today that there would be some business sectors - including some in the hospitality industry - who would still find it tough to operate in level 2.

"We have been working closely with hospitality over the last couple of weeks. We think they can make it work for many but obviously for some these restrictions are going to be a bit tough.

"We said from day one we'll continue work with some on what further support we can provide but this is the new normal - we are going to be in this position for a little while as the world grapples with the virus."

Robertson confirmed the Government was investigating whether to continue with a broad-base wage subsidy scheme. It was difficult to target specific industries. "If you take tourism, and a service station operator in Kaikoura - is he tourism?"

He had no regrets about the scheme, or reports that companies owned by billionaires, elite schools and the likes of successful manuka honey companies had made use of it. The counterfactual had to be considered - more people could have lost jobs.

Robertson was keen to explore opportunities to attract international students back to New Zealand, ahead of other countries given our success battling the virus.

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Ardern acknowledged yesterday there was also some concern about opening up travel again. She pointed to some of the "clusters", such as weddings and a pub party, from which cases had spread throughout New Zealand.

Under the rules, no more than 100 people will be allowed in any one place and strict rules will apply to ensure distancing and hygiene.

People will have to queue outside malls and large retailers, similar to this supermarket queue. Photo / Paul Taylor
People will have to queue outside malls and large retailers, similar to this supermarket queue. Photo / Paul Taylor

At pubs and restaurants all customers must be seated and well enough apart to ensure distance. Malls and large retailers must restrict the numbers in shops.

Hairdressers and beauty therapists must use personal protective equipment and regularly clean surfaces touched by customers such as benches and door handles.

The news domestic travel could also begin again was welcomed by Tourism Industry Aotearoa head Chris Roberts, who said while New Zealand travellers would not be able to replace the international tourists it would help save thousands of jobs in the industry.

It was also welcomed by the Real Estate Institute which said it would allow real estate offices to re-open and open homes and valuations to begin again.

Ardern warned people not to get too carried away – saying any increase in Covid-19 cases as people got out and about more could force us back into a lockdown.

She likened it to being halfway back after climbing Mt Everest, saying nobody wanted to go back up.

"But the descent is known to be even more dangerous, so we need to proceed with caution."

The danger of going back into a full lockdown was also driven home by Robertson's foreshadowing of next week's Budget.

In a pre-Budget speech, Robertson said that the hit to the economy and the cost of the Covid-19 recovery would push the books deep into the red for "an extended period" – and debt would rise to an all-time high.

He did not provide further details but said the figures were "sobering" and many of the Government's previous priorities were now on ice.

The focus would be on those impacted worst by the pandemic.

"It is a Budget delivered in the shadow of a one-in-100-years shock to our society and economy.

"We are no longer talking about growth in the near term, but about the scale and length of the economy's contraction."

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield says New Zealand is still on track for a move to level 2, with no cases of recent community transmission and a vast improvement in contact tracing.

Bloomfield is yet to provide his recommendations to the Government on moving out of level 3, but told the Herald yesterday the signs were good and there was still no indication of widespread community transmission.

"We are where we want to be. We were quite confident [at the end of level 4] and that has continued through alert level 3.

"If we get a similar result [on Wednesday] and [Thursday], I think that's a very reassuring picture."

There was just one new case yesterday, a person linked to the Matamata cluster.

There were also 7323 tests completed on Tuesday – a record number for one day.

It comes as officials try to ensure they are no loose ends around the existing cases and clusters in New Zealand, and double-check there is no community transmission.

That effort has included offering to test everybody with a connection to the Marist College cluster.

The focus has been on boosting test numbers and thorough contact tracing – two critical elements to ensure there are no major future outbreaks once restrictions on movements and socialising ease.