New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday that the country has eliminated transmission of the novel coronavirus and would begin lifting most curbs imposed in the wake of the pandemic.
This makes the south Pacific nation one of the first countries in the world to announce it was free of COVID-19.
Ardern made the announcement after the last-known patient with coronavirus had recovered. The last new case of COVID-19 was reported in New Zealand 17 days ago. Monday also marks the first day since February 28 that there are no active cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand.
Approximately 1,500 people contracted COVID-19 in New Zealand and 22 died of the virus.
Ardern told mediapersons on Monday, “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... We almost certainly will see cases here again, and I do want to say again, we will almost certainly 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 and we are, that we are prepared.”
Ardern announced that her government would begin easing curbs on gatherings, including social distancing restrictions, from midnight on Monday. Reuters reported, "Public and private events, the retail and hospitality industries and all public transport could resume without social distancing norms still in place across much of the world." Fans will be allowed to stadiums for the domestic Super Rugby competition. However, border curbs would continue.
"While we're in a safer, stronger position, there's still no easy path back to pre-COVID life, but the determination and focus we have had on our health response will now be vested in our economic rebuild. While the job is not done, there is no denying this is a milestone...," Ardern noted.
Experts have credited Ardern for acting decisively by imposing a strict lockdown early on during the COVID-19 outbreak. Moreover, New Zealand's isolated geographic location gave it the advantage of observing how the COVID-19 outbreak progressed in other countries.