New Zealand sports to welcome back crowds as COVID rules eased

A testing site for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is seen in Wellington
FILE PHOTO: A testing site for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is seen in Wellington, New Zealand, March 11, 2022. REUTERS/Lucy Craymer

March 30, 2022

(Reuters) -New Zealand sports will welcome full-capacity crowds when COVID-19 rules ease this weekend after a bruising period for revenues.

New Zealand capped crowds at 100 people for outdoor events while battling an outbreak of the Omicron variant, but will lift the curbs from Saturday, along with the need for fans to wear masks, the government said on Wednesday.

“While Omicron is transmissible the natural ventilation of an outdoor seating reduces the risk,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

Women’s Cricket World Cup organisers put more tickets on sale for weekend matches and for the semi-finals starting March 30.

“We had sold out what we had available under the previous restrictions so it’s great to offer full capacity,” tournament boss Andrea Nelson said in a statement.

Crowds will also be back for Super Rugby Pacific matches, though the change will come too late for Moana Pasifika’s clash against the Wellington Hurricanes in Auckland on Friday.

Moana Pasifika, comprised mostly of players with Pacific islands heritage, had no issue with the timing and said it had planned for a restricted crowd.

“We are conscious of our Pasifika fan base in South Auckland and note that COVID is still rampant in our communities, who are most vulnerable,” a team spokesperson told New Zealand media.

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) CEO Mark Robinson said it was a “really positive day” for the sport.

“It’s been no secret that there have been significant challenges working through COVID and since the start of the year,” Robinson said in a video posted by NZR on Twitter.

“And that has impacted all levels of the game, from community level right through our semi-professional and professional games.

“… Delighted and really excited to see some joy come back on the faces of the people that are close to the game.”

Fans will no longer have to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to attend sports events and other venues from April 4.

Over 95% of New Zealand’s population over the age of 12 has received two vaccination shots.

Authorities expect COVID-19 infections to peak in the country in the next two weeks.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom, additional reporting by Manasi Pathak; Editing by Peter Rutherford)