How did New Zealand manage to beat coronavirus?
It was announced on Monday that New Zealand had no active cases of COVID-19 for the first time since the novel coronavirus arrived in the country. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced her country will move to Level 1 -- the most relaxed level -- at 11.59 pm on Monday 8 June.
While most the world remains in the clutches of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, New Zealanders can take comfort from the fact that they are on course to eliminate coronavirus with zero active cases.
It was announced on Monday that New Zealand had no active cases of COVID-19 for the first time since the novel coronavirus arrived in the country, setting it on course to eliminate the disease, lift social distancing restrictions and open up its economy.
The Pacific island nation is among only a handful of countries that have emerged from the pandemic, as big economies like the United States, Britain, India and Brazil continue to grapple with the spreading virus.
This was largely because of a strict lockdown enforced for nearly seven weeks, in which most businesses were shut and everyone except essential workers had to stay at home. According to a Johns Hopkins University tally, New Zealand had only 1,504 COVID-19 cases and 22 deaths.
New Zealand's Health Ministry said in a statement on Monday that the last person who was being monitored for coronavirus had recovered. It also said there were no new cases of COVID-19 for a 17th consecutive day, and the last person known to be infected has now recovered.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that New Zealand will move to its lowest alert level by midnight. It will move to national Alert Level 1 from the current Level 2. She told the country that after 75 days of New Zealand being in a COVID-19 alert, the country was ready to move to the most relaxed alert level. "Today we are ready," she said.
The Prime Minister has been in the spotlight and garnered praise from the World Health Organization for her government’s approach to the virus, with a strict and cautious approach that appears to have paid off.
On March 25 she locked down the country for four weeks – requiring that most New Zealanders remained at home most of the time – before gradually easing restrictions.
Asked how she first reacted when she learned there zero active cases of coronavirus in the country, Ardern said: "I did a little dance."
"(Baby daughter) Neve was caught a little by surprise, but she joined in, having absolutely no idea why I was dancing around the lounge," she added.
New Zealand's PM Jacinda Ardern was asked how she first reacted when she learned there zero active cases of Coronavirus in the country.— Goodable (@Goodable) June 8, 2020
This was her answer.
It involved her daughter, Neve ❤️#Leadership pic.twitter.com/mC48NDqD1T
On Monday, Ardern described level 1 as being "where life feels as normal as it can in the time of a global pandemic". This will mean life returning to something approximating a pre-coronavirus normal. Social distancing measures and restrictions on mass gatherings would disappear, although strict border controls would still be in force, as would contact tracing.
Public and private events, retail, hospitality, public transport and domestic travel will all be allowed without any restrictions.
"Having no active cases for the first time since February 28 is certainly a significant mark in our journey but as we’ve previously said, ongoing vigilance against COVID-19 will continue to be essential," Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said in the statement.
The country of five million people has pursued an elimination strategy to beat coronavirus, rather than just aiming to contain the disease. But the Health Ministry has been cautious about declaring victory.
Ardern said New Zealand had "united in unprecedented ways to crush the virus" - but warned that "elimination is not a point in time but a sustained effort" and that the country would "almost certainly see cases again".
Elimination did not mean eradicating the virus permanently from New Zealand, but eliminating "chains of transmission" for at least 28 consecutive days after the last infected person left isolation, which would be on June 15, the Health Ministry said.
It also required the country to be able to "effectively prevent or contain any future imported cases from overseas", it said in an emailed statement.
Alert level 1 means all restrictions on businesses and gatherings are lifted and physical distancing is "encouraged" instead of being mandatory. A report in the New Zealand Herald, citing health officials said, the golden rules of alert level 1 are:
-- If you are sick, stay home
-- If you have cold or flu-like symptoms get tested
-- Wash your hands, Wash your hands, Wash your hands
-- Sneeze and cough into your elbow and regularly disinfect shared surfaces
-- If you are told by health authorities to self isolate you must do so immediately
-- If concerned about your wellbeing or you have underlying health conditions, consult with your GP
-- Keep track of where you've been and who you've seen so we can use that for contact tracing if needed
-- Businesses should help with rule seven by displaying a QR code
-- Stay vigilant
Professor Michael Baker said having no active cases was "an important milestone on the way to Covid-19 elimination".
"This event (New Zealand's switch to Level 1), when it happens, is a statement that we have achieved the goal of eliminating the COVID-19 virus from this country.
"This is, however, only the first battle in what will be a long-term war against this virus. The threat from Covid-19 obviously remains while this pandemic continues across the globe. This risk will rise again in New Zealand as we gradually increase the numbers of incoming travellers. It will also rise during the coming winter when coronaviruses are more transmissible."