COVID 19 and Te Tau Ihu


New Zealand first experienced the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, some months after the virus was identified in China.  New Zealand suffered few deaths, and relatively few cases, however the economic, social and emotional impact of lockdown and closed borders, alongside the constant fear of what might happen, has been significant, and ongoing.

COVID 19 Be kind social media tile

COVID 19. New Zealand Government logo - be kind

Te Tau Ihu, like most of the South Island suffered few cases and deaths, but experienced restrictions and lockdowns with the rest of the country. The nationwide lockdowns of March to May 2020, when the country was in Alert Levels 3 & 4, and people had to stay at home and remain within their household bubble, may turn out to be one of the defining historic moments of the 21st century.

The Life in the Bubble project, initiated by the Nelson Provincial Museum, Nelson Public and Tasman District Libraries, invited people to document their experiences of this time, in physical and digital formats. Alongside this, the Nelson Provincial Museum collected created in response to the pandemic. Many of these objects, documents, photographs and associated stories can be seen on the Museum’s Collections online site.

Pieces written for the Life in the Bubble Project

A collection of pieces contributed by the community to the project. 


Life in the Bubble Karen Lee visual diary kitchen

Life in the Bubble - visual diary by Karen Lee. The Kitchen. Image supplied by author


Life in the Bubble Karen Lee visual diary shopping

Life in the Bubble - visual diary by Karen Lee. Shopping. Image supplied by author

Writings and thoughts


Life in the Bubble Karen Lee Visual diary Mothers Day

Life in the Bubble Visual diary by Karen Lee. Mothers Day. Image supplied by author

Life in the Bubble Karen Lee visual diary Zoom

Life in the Bubble visual diary by Karen Lee. Zoom. Image supplied by author

Contributions from children and young adults

COVID-19 and Te Tau Ihu - a summary

The first case in the region was notified to the Nelson Marlborough Medical Officers of Health on 20 March, and the last one on 29 April, with a total of 50 cases. Three cases required acute hospital care for some stage of their illness – two at Wairau Hospital and one at Nelson Hospital. Two people required intensive care. 32 acute hospital bed-days were used to care for COVID-19 patients, across intensive care and general wards. No COVID-19 deaths were recorded locally.

Some statistics:

  • 27 cases were women, 23 were men. The ages ranged from 12-82 years, with a median age of 45 years.
  • The ethnicity breakdown is: 41 cases European or ‘other’, 7 cases ethnicity Māori, 1 case NZ European/Māori, 1 case Pasifika
  • The regional breakdown for cases under territorial authorities (the national requirement for case reporting) is: 22 cases were resident in the Marlborough District, 21 in the Tasman District, 7 in Nelson City.

A timeline of key COVID developments in New Zealand:

  • 2019 - 29 December - Chinese authorities advise the WHO of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause, originating in Wuhan, Hubei province.
  • 2020 - 7 January - China isolates a novel coronavirus, at first called 2019-nCoV and later SARS-CoV-2 
  • 30 January  - WHO declares the epidemic a global health emergency
  • 12 February - Disease renamed COVID-19 
  • 16 March - Government bans non-essential outdoor gatherings of 500-plus people; schools and universities exempt
  • 19 March - Government bans indoor events with more than 100 people; exemptions for workplaces, schools, supermarkets and public transport. Government also advises New Zealanders not to travel overseas and urges New Zealanders who are travelling overseas to consider returning home immediately
  • 20 March - Border closed to most foreigners
  • 21 March – Following the border closure, an alert level system is announced. New Zealand is at Level 2
  • 23 March - Government lifts country to Alert Level 3 and announces widespread restrictions on movement will come into effect at 11.59pm on 25 March under Alert Level 4
  • 27 April - Total deaths: 19. Combined total 1469. Alert Level reduced from 4 to 3 at 11.59pm
  • 13 May – With no new cases, in stages over the coming days, New Zealand moves from Alert Level 3 to 2
  • 2021 - 23 June 2021
    Wellington region put into Alert Level 2 until 29 June, following the visit of an Australian man who tested positive after returning to Sydney
  • 9 August - scare at Tauranga when ship Rio de la Plata unloaded by Port workers, and crew found to have Delta variant of COVID.
  • 17 August - A case of COVID-19 detected in the community in Auckland and confirmed as Delta variant. An Alert Level 4 lockdown applied in Auckland and Coromandel for seven days and in the rest of the country for three days.
  • 20 August - Alert Level change: All of New Zealand will be in Alert Level 4 until 11.59pm on Tuesday 24 August. Total of 31 cases, 3 in Wellington, rest in Auckland.
  • 23 August - Alert Level 4 will be extended in Auckland until 11.59pm on Tuesday 31 August, and in the rest of the country until 11.59pm on Friday 27 August.
  • 31 August - Alert Level change: New Zealand other than Auckland and Northland drop from level 4 to level 3 
  • 2 September -Alert Level change: Northland moves to level 3 at 11.59pm
  • 7 September - NZ, except for Auckland, drops to L2 "Delta". 1 new death has been recorded.
  • 20 September - cases in Hauraki area, which moves to Level 4. Auckland drops to Level 3 following day, and is joined by Hauraki, which drops to L2 25 September.
  • 3 October - cases in Waikato and that area moves to L3. One death 6 October. NZ moving to suppression, not elimination strategy as cases rise.
  • 8 October - Northland in L3, moving back to L2 19 October
  • 13 October - launch of My Covid Record website, with vaccination records and My Vaccine Passes available in November
  • 29 November - booster doses of Pfizer vaccine available
  • 2 December - new traffic light system for Alert levels starts
  • 2022 - 18 January - First confirmed Omicron community cases.  All of New Zealand moves to the Red.
  • 23 Jan - 9 Nelson Marlborough cases confirmed with Omicron, which soon becomes the dominant variant in NZ
  • 3 Feb staged border reopening underway and new mask rules
  • 24 Feb - self diagnosed RAT testing becomes widely available
  • 27 Feb - self isolation and not MIQ introduced for returning New Zealanders (removed entirely for Australian returnees from 2 March and for all NZ citizens from 18 March
  • 4 April -  Vaccine passes are no longer required
  • 13 April - the country moves to the orange traffic light and indoor capacity limits removed
  • 28 June - second booster available for over 50's, to be rolled out to all over following months
  • 31 July - border fully reopened
  • 12 September - COVID-19 Protection Framework (the traffic light system) ended, as did the requirement for some other COVID-19 public health measures including the requirement to wear masks in shops, libraries, and on buses.
  • 26 September 2022 all remaining Government vaccine mandates end. 
  • Total deaths attributed to COVID-19 to this date: 2030

A complete COVID timeline for New Zealand has been compiled by NZDoctor. 


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