Auckland – Up to a million New Zealanders returned to work on Monday after the country effectively eliminated the coronavirus.
They will be able to go fishing, surfing, hunting and hiking for the first time in more than a month as the country begins to ease its way out of a strict lockdown.
Shops and businesses began to reopen after New Zealand dropped its response level from Level 4 to Level 3 at midnight and travel restrictions were eased.
New Zealand’s 5 million residents were subjected to one of the swiftest and strictest lockdowns in the world in response to the pandemic.
After nine days of single-digit increases in new daily cases, Sunday saw the country record just one new case of transmission in the community. As of Monday night, New Zealand had 1 500 confirmed Covid-19 cases, and 19 deaths.
Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield told a press conference: “That does give us confidence that we’ve achieved our goal of elimination, which never meant zero (cases), but it does mean we know where our cases are coming from.”
Asked if Covid-19 had been eliminated, prime minister Jacinda Ardern replied: “Currently.
“There is no widespread undetected community transmission in New Zealand,” she said. “We have won that battle. But we must remain vigilant if we are to keep it that way.
“We must make sure that we do not let the virus run away on us again and cause a new wave of cases and deaths. To succeed we need to hunt down the last few cases of the virus.”
As other countries struggled to contain the spread as the virus hit, experts in Wellington watched on.
Their response was guided by a report from Imperial College London, which warned that without strict control measures, the pandemic would infect 80 percent of the population and swamp health care systems. That saw the strategy shift from attempting to flatten one big peak of cases to managing a series of smaller ones.
Not content with containing the virus to manageable levels, New Zealand went on the attack, becoming the first Western country to develop a full elimination strategy. The first case was recorded in the country on February 28, the borders were shut a fortnight later and a full lockdown ordered on March 25, the day after the UK.
Hours before the measures came into force, every mobile phone sounded an alarm usually reserved for tsunami alerts and a text flashed up that read: “Act as if you have Covid-19. This will save lives.”
All arrivals into the country were put into enforced quarantine and an extensive testing and tracing programme was mounted.
Ardern said officials could never know how bad it could have been, but “through our cumulative actions we have avoided the worst”.
Food outlets announced contactless delivery plans yesterday, shops showed off their latest collections online available for home delivery and posters for social distancing rules were plastered to offices.
Ardern said public gatherings were still banned and asked people to remain in their “bubble”, with working and schooling at home still highly encouraged.
The easing of conditions was focused on opening up the economy, rather than people’s social lives.
“It can’t be a return to pre-Covid-19 life,” she said. “That day will come, but it’s not here yet.”
The country will stay at alert Level 3 for two weeks, before reviewing the progress on May 11.
By Daily Mail Foreign Service