New 100 limit for gatherings: ‘Everybody’s been waiting’

This article by is republished with permission under Kaniva News partnerships with Radio New Zealand. 

Glasses of rose wine seen during a friendly party of a celebration.

From midday on Friday, restrictions on gatherings will be loosened to 100, the maximum under alert level 2. Photo: 123RF

The new Covid-19 rule will come in at midday on Friday and it’s being met with excitement, trepidation but also disappointment.

Restrictions on gatherings have been tough for those mourning the death of a relative or friend, and a public outcry had already forced officials to allow up to 50 people to attend funerals and tangi.

Under the 50-person limit Manurewa Marae had been operating a system of separate groups at a tangi, with 50 on the marae, another group inside, and a third group waiting in the carpark.

Chairman Rangi McLean said they could now enlarge the groups to 100 if needed.

“We’ve got a pretty big marae which can handle that level of activity.”

The marae works with funeral directors who had enabled then to carry out their tangi, he said.

Contact tracing was still in place, with registration at the gate, with people required to use sanitisers, gloves and masks.

“It will enable us to have about 300 if it got to that level.”

Funeral Directors Association president Gary Taylor is pleased the rules have relaxed further but said they still meant grieving families had to decide who is not invited.

“Even at 100, we’re still asking families to make decisions that they wouldn’t normally make. And that just adds a layer of emotional distress onto what is already a very emotional time.”

There were people who would continue to delay funerals.

“In my own funeral business at the moment we have one person that we are holding and the likelihood is that will be until the restrictions are completely gone,” he said.

Auckland Unitarian Church has been holding services via Zoom and minister Rev Clay Nelson was uncertain how many of his regular congregation of 45 people would be ready to return in level 2.

“Like many churches I have a number of of people in the vulnerable category,” he said.

“Actually we’ve had better attendance on Zoom than on Sundays. The other aspect is because there are not many Unitarian churches in New Zealand, we’ve got people coming from Dunedin to Whangārei.”

The church may keep using Zoom services going to allow those who feel vulnerable locally to still be part of it.

One of those listening with bated breath as the prime minister outlined the changes was Christchurch wedding planner Emma Newman.

“It was unbelievable yesterday, I rang and was crying with one of the bride’s mothers. She was delighted as was I.”

“Everybody’s been waiting – I guess it’s a time you want to bring family and friends together.”

“I don’t have any gatecrashers so I know who’s coming and we can contact trace. I’m going to buy some posh hand santisers to look nice on the tables and keep an eye on social distancing.”

Now borders are closed the reason behind clusters like at the Bluff wedding was hopefully gone, she said.

The new level 2 rules mean restaurants, bars and clubs will be able to take large group bookings of up to 100, but people will still have to stay seated, and dancing won’t be allowed until level 1, which could be just a month away.

Grady Elliott, who owns bars and clubs in Auckland, Nelson and Blenheim, can’t wait.

“We’re really excited about getting to the end of the sit-down and the restraints on going to the bar and having table service.

“Everyone just wants to get up off their chair and have a bit of a boogie,” he said.

Sports clubs have also been in limbo during level 2, and Feilding Rugby Club chairman Sean O’Connor said they had been closed since the lockdown.

“It probably wasn’t worth the potential trouble that it could have caused so we made the decision not to have our clubrooms open. But that’ something we’ll re-look at now that the numbers have increased to a hundred.

“That takes a little bit of that grey area away and we’d be much more comfortable in having the clubrooms open and potentially getting some of our supporters back in and reconnecting ahead of the season kicking off in a few weeks time.”

Michael Plank, professor of maths and statistics at Canterbury University, is sounding a note of caution about the risks of bigger groups.

“Larger group size is just going to make the tracking down and contact tracing of everyone that much more difficult if we do get a new case cluster,” he said.

“I think it just means we all have to be super-vigilant and extra careful with our social distancing and our hand hygiene and tracking those details of where we’ve been and who’ve been in contact with.”

The government will check in again on level 2 rules on 8 June, and no later than 22 June will decide whether to move to level 1.

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