On Monday, New Zealand health officials reported that the last known coronavirus patient had recovered, officially declaring the nation virus free.
It has been 17 days since New Zealand recorded a new confirmed case of COVID-19. Since then, the country has also tested an additional 40,000 New Zealanders, bringing the total number of people tested to around 300,000.
On midnight on Tuesday, all of New Zealand moved to level one, the lowest of the country’s four tier pandemic alert system.
Under the eased regulations, social distancing remains encouraged but is no longer a requirement. Limits on public gatherings have also been lifted and all businesses and large scale public events have been authorized to resume.
For New Zealand, the only regulations that remain unchanged are on border restrictions, which are shut to all except citizens and residents with a few exceptions. Furthermore, all that enter the country will be required to self-quarantine.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters that she did “a little dance” when she was told the country no longer had any active virus cases.
“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,” said Ardern at a news conference.
The country of five million is one of the few countries to have combatted the virus. Since the start of the pandemic, New Zealand has reported 1,504 confirmed cases and 22 confirmed deaths across the nation.
Ardern’s government enforced severe measures to combat the virus from the onset of the pandemic on March 25 in a self-described “go hard, go early” approach.
The country shut all schools, nonessential businesses and required residents to stay at home. Similar to many governments around the world, Ardern’s government also outlined a four-stage plan to transition back to normalcy.
Over the past few months, these restrictions were gradually lifted, moving to level three in April, and then level two in mid-May. The move to level one had been scheduled for June 22, but the process was expedited when no new cases were reported.
Ardern has received widespread praise for her government’s quick and stringent response to the virus.
Helen Clarke, a former prime minister of New Zealand, took to Twitter to applaud New Zealand’s progress. “Clear leadership & an engaged public have produced this result. Principles of inclusion, resilience & sustainability should now guide recovery in NZ & globally,” read the tweet.
Despite the nation’s success, Ardern stressed that New Zealand must not let their guards down completely and must remain sensible as the country works to reopen.
“The virus will be in our world for some time to come,” she said. “We are confident we have eliminated transmission of the virus for now, but elimination is not a point in time; it is a sustained effort.”
While the countries’ borders remain closed, plans for a “travel bubble” with Australia are in the works.
Ardern also announced that QR codes would appear wherever people gather. She reminded people to scan the codes into the government’s contact tracing app to ensure smooth detection and necessary self-isolation in the case of any future outbreak.
Ardern also took the time on Monday to congratulate her “team of five million.”
“While the job is not done, there is no denying this is a milestone,” she declared.
“Thank you, New Zealand.”
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