COVID-Free New Zealanders Pack Rugby Stadium

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New Zealand is where the United States would like to be, as the island nation became one of the first countries in the world to hold a sporting event in a packed stadium amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Having officially eradicated the novel coronavirus from the country during a strict lockdown in March, New Zealand on Saturday welcomed 20,000 rowdy, unmasked fans into the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin to watch Saturday’s match between the local Highlanders and the Chiefs, who had traveled from Hamilton. 

“It’s massive,” the country’s sports minister, Grant Robertson, told the Associated Press from the sideline. “It’s a world first, and it’s a payoff for all the hard work of 5 million New Zealanders.” 

The game was played without social distancing guidelines in place for fans. Robertson said he’d been receiving calls all week from officials around the world, asking how New Zealand was able to hold a sporting event without virus mitigation measure in place.

Peter Miskimmin, the chief executive of government agency Sport New Zealand, said the return of sport was integral to returning New Zealand to some semblance of normalcy.

“I don’t think anyone has yet replicated that sense of excitement of being in a crowd and the passions that flow from that,” he said. “To be in a stadium and to feel it, and to even influence the game … the players know that the crowd is there.”

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