Being able to host 100 people indoors and outdoors in a small lifting of restrictions will benefit Whanganui businesses badly affected by level 3 and 4 lockdowns.
Whanganui and the rest of the country will stay at level 2 from today, with the slight increase to gathering limits, while Auckland moves down to alert level 3.
For smaller businesses such as the Orange Cafe, there will be little change because it can't seat many more than 50 people, assistant manager Peter Ross said.
The congregation of the Catholic Parish of Whanganui, with 700 to 900 people attending mass most Sundays, will wait to see what the Apostolic Administrator of the Palmerston North Diocese, Cardinal John Dew, decides about whether the faithful can return to church.
Whanganui's Catholic churches have been closed since August 18, Father Vaughan Leslie said, except for funerals with limited numbers. Cardinal Dew may decide to double the number of masses each week to six, to accommodate a maximum of 100 at each.
His decision will be available on the parish's Facebook page and website.
Cleveland Funeral Home co-owner Craig Cleveland said the increase to 100 people indoors will help a lot of grieving families. They have found creative ways around the level 4 and 3 restrictions, using livestreaming, Zoom and Skype.
For example, Ailsa Stewart's funeral, with 10 people present, has been viewed on livestream 250 times, and there will be a memorial service for her when numbers are unlimited.
The funeral home has had to limit numbers for about 50 funerals so far, and memorial services are scheduled later for several of those.
People are wearing masks in the chapel unless they are speaking, and 100 can be socially distanced in the 200 seats available. The masks are causing a problem for Cleveland himself, who wears hearing aids and likes to be able to lip read.
Embassy 3 Cinema owner Gary Vinnell welcomes the move from 50 to 100 customers per auditorium, and said there are lots of films available, unlike last year.
"The next three or four months are going to be huge, with the amount of product coming through."
The weeks since August 18 have been challenging for venues that host big crowds.
Wanganui Jockey Club operations manager Bret Field said the race day this week will be closed to the public, and bookings at the racecourse function centre have been postponed, postponed again, and cancelled.
The centre had full booking from September to Christmas.
"We might as well have wiped the calendar of the whole period," Field said.
He's hoping the alert level will ease before the next race day, November 27, and said some functions will be able to proceed, with a limit of 100 people, and horse training resumed under level 3 with restrictions.
The Grand Hotel was also hit by the lockdowns, receptionist Alison Hedges said, with "heaps" of functions cancelled.
With an indoor limit of 50 people, a function with 34 in one space limited numbers in the bar to 16. With fewer people travelling, only three or four rooms have been used every night.
"It's been just dead."
The 100 limit will be better, Hedges said, including for this weekend's rugby function. But she's hoping for a further easing.
"Until we get down to level 1 I don't think we are really going to be seeing a big difference," she said.