The New Zealand government has announced today (Monday) that the country can safely move out of Alert Level 2 at midnight, paving the way for fans to return to sporting fixtures without any restrictions.

Alert Level 1 will allow New Zealanders to resume work, school, sports and domestic travel without any restrictions. New Zealanders will also be free to meet up with as many people as they like.

Controls at borders will remain in place for those entering the country, with a 14-day managed quarantine or isolation to be imposed. As of today, there are currently no active cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand and the country has not recorded a new infection for 17 days.

The lift in restrictions will see Saturday’s Super Rugby Aotearoa become the first professional rugby competition in the world to have fans return “en-masse” following the COVID-19 outbreak.

New Zealand Rugby said there will be no limit on crowd numbers when the Highlanders take on the Chiefs at Dunedin’s 30,000-seat Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday. Fans will also be free to return without restrictions during Sunday’s match between the Blues and the Hurricanes at Auckland’s Eden Park (pictured).

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson said: “It is a testament to all New Zealanders that we are in a position to lift restrictions on mass gatherings and it’s a massive boost for Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa.

“We’re incredibly proud, and grateful, to be the first professional sports competition in the world to be in a position to have our teams play in front of their fans again. It’s going to be a very special and unique competition and it’s fitting that New Zealanders now have a chance to be part of it.”

With the move towards Level 1, kick-off times in the Super Rugby Aotearoa will shift to 7.05pm for Saturday games and 3.35pm for Sunday games.

New Zealand Rugby’s head of professional rugby, Chris Lendrum, added: “With the return of community sport, we wanted to give our many fans involved in Saturday sport time to finish up their games, get ready to head out, and then across town to our venues. We’re excited to be able to provide some daytime Sunday rugby in 2020.

“With the change to Level 1 our teams can now prepare normally for matches, rather than asking them to fly in and out on match day.”

Lendrum said New Zealand Rugby and Super Rugby clubs will encourage fans attending matches to use the QR codes displayed at venues to enable effective contact tracing.

The Super Rugby Aotearoa is a 10-week competition involving New Zealand’s five Super Rugby clubs – the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders. The competition was launched after the regular Super Rugby season, which also features teams from Australia, South Africa and Argentina, was suspended on March 15.

Image: Eden Park