New Zealand could allow ‘sold out’ sports stadiums next week
With just one active Covid-19 case in the country, move could be made to alert level 1
Crusaders fans at Orangetheory Stadium in February before the country locked down. Photo: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images
Professional sport in New Zealand could welcome fans back to stadiums as early as next week with the government set to decide whether to lift all social distancing restrictions imposed to due the Covid-19 pandemic.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will decide on Monday whether the country is ready to bring its alert system down to level 1, which would lift limits on mass gatherings that were imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
That would open the door for fans to attend the opening round matches of New Zealand’s “Super Rugby Aotearoa” tournament starting on June 13th, and be a coup for the domestic game which has suffered financially due to the coronavirus shutdown.
“At level 1, all current rules on businesses and services are essentially lifted,” Ardern said on Wednesday. “Sports and concert stadiums can be sold out.”
Ardern said the government was working with stadiums to create a “Covid code” to ensure contact tracing was in place in case sports fans tested positive for the coronavirus.
“For those larger events it is a matter of preparedness for us. We may be confident that we’re an environment where we do not have Covid in circulation,” she added.
Professional sport returned to the country on Wednesday with the opening day of the “NZ Premier League Tennis” tournament at Auckland’s closed Albany Stadium, a NZ$90,000 (€51,400) event organised to give local-based players a chance to earn income.
Organisers said they would look at opening the three-week event to fans if the government gave the go-ahead next week.
New Zealand recorded no new cases of coronavirus for a 12th consecutive day on Wednesday and has just one active case.
New Zealand Rugby boss Mark Robinson told Radio New Zealand the positive outlook was “breathing a huge amount of life into the game”.
“There are a lot of things to be optimistic about for the second half of the year,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Australia, small crowds at sporting events may be possible in the near future, the deputy chief medical officer said on Wednesday, citing successful efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Australia has not reported a death from the disease for more than a week. It has recorded 102 Covid-19 deaths and almost 7,200 infections.
With fewer than 20 cases each day, Australia has allowed professional sport to begin, though no crowds are permitted.
Australia’s national cabinet will on Friday meet to discuss how to further ease social distancing restrictions, including potentially allowing small, spaced out crowds at stadiums.
“We’re going to try and get back to as much normality as we can, and I would join many people in wanting to go and watch a football match. But we need to do this in a staged fashion,” Australia’s deputy chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, told reporters in Canberra.
Australia’s national cabinet in May agreed on a three-step plan to remove the bulk of social distance curbs by July, though it did mention crowds at sporting venues could be problematic.
States and territories across Australia have been relaxing restrictions at differing paces in recent weeks, slowly ending a partial lockdown ordered in March in a bid to slow the pandemic.
Although the virus’ spread has slowed dramatically, the economic toll of the curbs is evident.
Australia’s treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, on Wednesday said the country’s economy had slipped into recession after official data showed gross domestic product fell last quarter and entire business sectors were closed down to fight the coronavirus.