Relief mixes with anxiety as New Zealand eases lockdown

New Zealand has been in a stringent lockdown for seven weeks and on Thursday most restrictions will be loosened, allowing people to go back to work and school, to shop, eat in restaurants and go to the cinema, playground or library. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her “team of 5 million” sacrificed normality to protect the nation’s most vulnerable people – including the elderly and immunosuppressed – but now restrictions can begin to loosen as health authorities gain control of the disease. While many are relishing the prospect of resuming their normal lives – and economists are sighing with relief that the economy can kick back into life – a small sense of anxiety is growing among some at what will be a very altered version of New Zealand’s “normal”. Dr Dougal Sutherland, a clinical psychologist at Victoria University of Wellington, said for many, fears of catching the virus may flare up with the loosened restrictions, while others may feel they have become rusty when it comes to basic social skills such as friendships, dating and interacting with colleagues. “Breaking out of our bubbles may bring with it feelings of loss, shame, and guilt as we come face-to-face with these harsh realities and have to front up to others.” Ardern has urged Kiwis to think of Level 2 as “the new normal”; an idea Dr Hiran Thabrew a child psychiatrist and paediatrician at the University of Auckland, agrees with.