Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the elimination of coronavirus and the end of social distancing on Monday, after the country’s sole remaining COVID-19 patient recovered.
New Zealand appears to have completely eliminated coronavirus within its borders as of Monday, June 8, after recording 20 consecutive days of zero new cases, and with its only remaining patient, a woman from Auckland, now symptom-free for 48 hours and considered as recovered.
According to Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield, the patient was able to leave the isolation, marking the first day of no active cases of COVID-19 since February 28.
It has been 17 days since the last new case was reported, during which time the country tested an additional 40,000 people, bringing the total number tested to approximately 300,000.
The day marks a significant milestone in New Zealand’s fight against coronavirus, which witnessed a total of 1,154 confirmed cases and 22 COVID-19 patient deaths.
From Tuesday, June 9 Kiwis will no longer have to social distance, gathering sizes will have no limit, and hospitality venues will be back to normal operations after the country enters “alert level 1” at midnight on Monday.
Observers across the world have been left in awe over the nation’s successful efforts in eliminating COVID-19, offering positive responses and praise through the media.
“Rather than seeking to merely suppress transmission of the virus, New Zealand pursued an explicit elimination strategy. It enforced one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, asking everyone to stay at home and allowing only essential services to operate.
“While this has almost certainly triggered a deep recession, the government hopes being virus-free will allow the economy to recover more rapidly than many of its peers,” said Bloomberg, showcasing New Zealand’s ambitious strategy to eliminate rather than reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“Clear leadership and an engaged public have produced this result,” said Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark in a tweet on Monday.
The end of social distancing and precautions
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters confidently that New Zealand had halted the spread of the virus but it still needs to be cautious and prepared for more challenges.
“We are confident we have eliminated the transmission of the virus in New Zealand for now, but elimination is not a point in time, it is a sustained effort,” she said at a news conference on Sunday.
“We almost certainly will see cases here again, and that is not a sign that we have failed, it is a reality of this virus. But if and when that occurs we have to make sure that we are prepared.”
Ardern has also announced that the Cabinet agreed to remove almost all remaining virus restrictions at midnight on Monday, with the exception of the border controls.
“We can hold public events without limitations. Private events such as weddings, functions, and funerals without limitations,” Ardern said. “Retail is back without limitations. Hospitality is back without limitations. Public transport and travel across the country are fully opened.”
However, the border remains shut to all but citizens and residents for now, with some limited exceptions. Everybody who does enter has to go through a 14-day period of isolation or quarantine.
“This freedom from restrictions relies though heavily on the ongoing role that our border controls will play in keeping the virus out … The virus will be in our world for some time to come,” said the prime minister.
Experts believe that many factors were in favor of the country’s fight against the novel coronavirus, including New Zealand’s explicit elimination strategy, the enforcement of strict lockdown policies, asking citizens to stay at home while allowing only essential services to operate, as well as the country’s isolated location in the South Pacific that allowed it to witness the devastating spread of the virus in other countries before its own outbreak.