New Zealanders eager for their first taste of McDonald’s in more than a month have lined up in drive-through lanes well before dawn as Kiwis celebrate the end of their brutal lockdown.
The New Zealand government lifted the most extreme measures of its response to COVID-19 today after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared the country had won the battle against community transmission of the coronavirus.
For many Kiwis that meant a return to work, five weeks after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s “go hard and go early” lockdown credited with a world-leading response to COVID-19.
For others, it meant getting stuck into take-away.
Jacinda Ardern’s government banned all restaurants from operating during the five-week level-four lockdown, making New Zealanders reliant on supermarkets and local dairies for their food.
With the restrictions lifted, many went straight for the golden arches.
In New Plymouth, the local McDonald’s store had customers waiting in line at the drive-through from 3:30am, according to Radio NZ.
There were around 40 cars in a row, snaking outside the facility, when the store actually opened at 5am.
Hutt South MP Chris Bishop posted his McDonald’s and takeaway coffee haul on Twitter, saying “It’s hard to explain how good this tastes.”
In Porirua, near Wellington, NZME reporter Jason Pine said there were 21 cars waiting to be served at 4:40am.
The shift to level three restrictions will have only a small effect on the social lives of New Zealanders, who are still being asked to stay home and to practice social distancing.
But the change is vital for business, with many industries severely sidelined over the past month.
Ms Ardern has maintained a health-first approach to fighting COVID-19, arguing a drastic short-term action would benefit the economy in the long run.
The result has produced remarkably low case numbers.
On Monday, health officials reported the country’s 19th death from 1122 confirmed coronavirus cases.
All of New Zealand’s deaths have been elderly people, with a majority from clusters linked to either the St Margaret’s home or Rosewood rest care home in Christchurch, with 10 deaths.
Hospitalisation rates have shown the strength of New Zealand’s public health response; fewer than 90 people have been to hospital with the disease.
Ms Ardern thanked Kiwis for persisting with a month-long lockdown which included “the strictest constraints paced on New Zealanders in modern history”.
“There is no widespread underlying community transmission in New Zealand. We have won that battle,” she said.
“It’s worked and we’ve done it together.”
With case numbers low and a health system operating within capacity, Ms Ardern knows the time is right to see many Kiwis back in their jobs.
“And they’re very keen to do so,” Kirk Hope, chief executive of industry peak Business NZ, told AAP.
“We’ve said all along that our best chance for a economic recovery is managing the virus well from a public health perspective.
“But many businesses have had five weeks out of action … and now we need the economic recovery to get a head of steam up.”
Many industries, including the mammoth tourism and aviation sectors, will remain a shadow of their former selves during level three.
Others, like forestry, construction and education, will now come back online.
So too will restaurants, producing the the biggest morale-booster of the lockdown – the return of takeaway food.
Restaurants can open from Monday at 11:59pm for delivery, drive-through or contactless takeaway.
Kiwis have been cheerfully chatting about the return of their favourite foods, with former Prime Minister Helen Clark joyfully nominating on Twitter that “Thai!” would be her first takeaway meal under level three.
Ms Ardern, her protege, said “the thing that I’m actually looking forward to is really just the chance to support some small businesses”.
“On my local walks … I see first-hand those cafes and places that have been closed down for a number of weeks,” she said.
“I’m looking forward to a chance to — like everyone — show them a bit of love.”