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Rugby fans rejoice in New Zealand as stadiums open

June 13, 2020

Thousands of fans celebrated their return to stadiums as New Zealand held its first top-level rugby match after the coronavirus lockdown. This week, the authorities said there were no active cases left in the country.

Rugby in Dunedin
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Allison

More than 20,000 rugby fans packed into the stands at a stadium in southern New Zealand on Saturday after the isolated country reopened its sports venues and lifted its months-long lockdown.

With authorities in the city of Dunedin confident of their victory over the coronavirus, fans were not required to wear masks or follow social distancing rules.

"It's massive," said the country's sports minister, Grant Robertson, pointing out that the Saturday match was "the world's first" professional rugby game since pandemic spread across the globe.

He added that attending the game was "a payoff for all the hard work of 5 million New Zealanders."

Rugby Union is New Zealand's dominant sport, with the national men's team, the "All Blacks" and the national women's team, the "Black Ferns" the world's number two and one respectively.

German exchange student Johanna Linder said she had never seen a rugby match before, but described the event as a chance to "lift the people's mood" and bring New Zealand together.

"It's a great opportunity to socialize again," she said, adding that people in Germany might be bit envious of the stadium crowds.

Read more: Coronavirus: 5 things New Zealand got right

The rugby match saw Otago Highlanders claim a 28-27 victory over Waikato Chiefs.

No more lockdown

Germany, like most other countries, still maintains strict restrictions on top-level sporting events. While Germany's top level Bundesliga teams returned to stadiums some four weeks ago, the fans are still banned from attending the games for fear of spreading the coronavirus. In turn, New Zealand lifted its lockdown earlier this week, with only some restrictions on entering the isolated country still in force.

Read more: New Zealand declares itself coronavirus-free after last case

The island nation of some 5 million people has seen around 1,500 infections and 22 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. The authorities believe no coronavirus cases are still active in the country.

Observers believe the officials' success in eliminating the disease was a combination of speedy and efficient lockdown measures, clear communication, effective testing, the government's adherence to the rules, and New Zealand's remote position.

dj/ng (AFP, AP)

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