WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND -- The raggedy hairstyles and scruffy beards have been there for all to see on video calls, so barber Conrad Fitz-Gerald decided to reopen his shop at midnight Wednesday - the moment New Zealand dropped most of its lockdown restrictions as the nation prepared itself for a new normal. Beard man.
Malls, retail stores and restaurants are all reopening Thursday in the South Pacific nation of 5 million, and many people are returning to their workplaces. But most gatherings will be limited to 10 people and social distancing guidelines will remain in place.
The reopening reflects the success New Zealand has experienced in its bold goal of eliminating the virus. The country reported no new cases of the virus on Tuesday and Wednesday. More than 1,400 of the nearly 1,500 people who contracted the virus that causes COVID-19 have recovered, while 21 have died.
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Fitz-Gerald said he'd had about 50 inquiries for midnight haircuts, but limited the initial customers to a dozen, starting with his 18-year-old son. He planned to then go home and return at 6 a.m. for another round of cuts.
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“People are saying their hair is out-of-control, they can't handle it anymore,” he said. “Lots of parents of teenage kids have been calling up, too, thinking a haircut at midnight would be a great novelty. Unfortunately, we are full up.”
Fitz-Gerald said he was trying to make sure the virus couldn't spread in his shop, Cathedral Junction Barbers in Christchurch. He said he'd made his own “supercharged” hand sanitizer from isopropyl alcohol and also had masks available for himself and his customers on request.
Health authorities in New Zealand have recommended that barbers wear masks but haven't made it mandatory.
Most New Zealand schools will reopen Monday but bars won't reopen until May 21, a decision that was prompted in part by the experience in South Korea, which has seen a spike in coronavirus cases linked to nightclubs in Seoul.
The nation's reopening coincides with the release of the government's annual budget on Thursday afternoon.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Southern Hemisphere nation faces the most challenging economic conditions since the Great Depression.
“New Zealand is about to enter a very tough winter,” she said. “But every winter eventually is followed by spring, and if we make the right choices we can get New Zealanders back to work and our economy moving quickly again.”