The move to Alert Level 3 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic is a welcome stepping stone on the way to beating the virus, but it is far from the end of the journey, says the controller of the North Waikato Combined Emergency Operations Centre, Paul Blewman.
Through the NWCEOC, Hamilton City Council and Waikato District Council are jointly providing logistical and community support to the public health response.
"Waikato, and New Zealand, have done a great job so far, but as some businesses return to work we must remember to continue physical distancing and make sure we follow the hygiene recommendations and safety protocols for staff, customer and the wider community," Mr Blewman says.
He says while getting fresh air and exercise is important for our wellbeing, we still need to stay as close to home as possible under Alert Level 3 to reduce the risk.
"We're asking you all to use your brains. We don't want to lose the gains that we've made as a community and a country.
"While travel is being relaxed under Alert Level 3, the rule of thumb is simple. Keep it local. Don't get in your car if you don't have to. You should still only be travelling for essentials – work, school, groceries.
"We also know you're all itching to get to places like the Hakarimata Track, but this popular walking track will remain closed under Covid-19 Alert Level 3.
"This is due to the inability to enforce the physical distancing rule on the track and the use of handrails up the stairs," Mr Blewman says.
Also announced last week, hunters will be able to hunt on private land with special restrictions under Alert Level 3, but not on public conservation land.
Hunting was not allowed under Alert Level 4, but a shift to Level 3 will mean hunters can once again hunt locally - as long as they have the landholder's permission and stick to the rules.
Mr Blewman says the start of the duck hunting season has also been postponed from Saturday May 2 to start on the second weekend after New Zealand moves to Alert Level 2.
"The risks associated with groups of people coming together is just too high. We're still encouraging New Zealanders to spend time in nature where possible if it's local, but this is not the time to take up hunting as a new hobby or explore the back country and go on an overnight tramp. Use your common sense – stay local, stay safe," he says.
There are seven "golden rules" for businesses at Alert Level 3:
• Your workers must work from home if they can.
• Workplaces must operate safely – maintain physical distance between workers, recording who is working together, limiting interaction between groups of workers, disinfecting surfaces, and maintaining high hygiene standards.
• Retail and hospitality businesses can only open for delivery and contactless pre-ordered pick up – customers cannot enter stores.
• Supermarkets, dairies and petrol stations can continue to allow customers into their stores, with the same restrictions and measures in place as Alert Level 4.
• Businesses cannot offer services which involve face-to-face contact or sustained close contact (for example hairdressing, massage, house cleaning, or door-to-door salespeople).
• Other in-home services can be delivered if it is safe to do so (like tradespeople for repairs or installations) – keep 2m separation from those in the house.
• Most workers will not require PPE to stay safe at work. Incorrectly used PPE can create more risk. Good hygiene measures like hand washing with soap and water, physical distancing, sneeze and cough etiquette, and wiping down surfaces is the best defence against Covid-19.
The Ministry of Health also advises those people returning to business premises to run taps for at least two minutes and flush toilets, so pipes can refill with fresh water.
This removes the stagnant water that has been sitting in the pipes during lockdown and brings in fresh, clean water from the street mains.
Mr Blewman says maintaining the rhythm and momentum is key as the change to Level 3 restrictions begin.
"Stay home unless you're on essential business. If your workplace is open make sure it's safe for you, your staff and your customers.
"Stay local, keep your physical distancing, and keep your bubble small. If you are sick, get tested, and keep washing your hands with soap often to kill the virus."