The Country of New Zealand has declared “eliminatioin” of coronavirus, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Monday, as the country hasn’t reported a single new case for more than two weeks.
Now public and private events, the retail and hospitality industries and all public transportation will resume without social distancing requirements — months after the South Pacific nation of five million was placed under a stringent lockdown.
“While the job is not done, there is no denying this is a milestone,” Ardern, 39, told reporters. “Thank you, New Zealand.”
“We are confident we have eliminated transmission of the virus in New Zealand for now, but elimination is not a point in time, it is a sustained effort,” she added.
In total, New Zealand has reported 1,154 coronavirus infections and 22 deaths — but it hasn’t seen a single new case over the past two weeks, for the first time since the virus emerged in the country in February.
Ardern said she did a “little dance” when she heard the news, surprising her 2-year-old daughter, Neve.
Back in March, Ardern placed the country under a strict lockdown in which most businesses were shut and everyone except essential workers was required to stay at home for about seven weeks. Restrictions, to some extent, lasted for about 75 days.
Border controls will remain in effect in the country, and everyone entering New Zealand will be tested for the coronavirus, according to Ardern.
The prime minister would not commit to a timeline for a proposed “travel bubble” to open with Australia, although the tourism industries in the neighboring countries have called for it.
“We will need to move cautiously here,” Ardern said. “No one wants to jeopardize the gains New Zealand has made.”
Ardern has been lauded across the world for her leadership during the pandemic and her popularity has skyrocketed, but her government’s task will now be to revive the economy, which is expected to sink into a recession.
Opposition parties have criticized her decision to keep restrictions in place even though the country has been virus-free for two weeks.
But New Zealand has vowed to not only contain the virus — but to eliminate it. That means transmission must be stopped for an extended period after the last known case is cleared, and the country must quickly detect and isolate any new cases, including those imported from abroad.
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