Several weeks after New Zealand instituted a strict covid-19 lockdown, the country’s prime minister says that its measures helped curb untraceable community spread but stressed that the country must continue adhering to a new standard of social distancing in order to keep the disease contained.
“There is no widespread, undetected community transmission in New Zealand,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said during a news briefing this week. “We have won that battle. But we must remain vigilant if we’re to keep it that way.”
Ardern told reporters that for the last few days, cases in New Zealand have been in the single digits and she expects that her country “may well reach zero” before seeing some cases pop up again here and there.
As New Zealand begins to ease some restrictions and move from level four to level three lockdown this week—including reopening some businesses and allowing more people to return to work—she stressed that the measure “is not and can not be a return” to daily life before covid-19 began to spread worldwide. She stressed that contact-tracing, self-isolation, and continued extensive testing will be paramount to continued success.
As part of its continued action, Ardern said New Zealand will focus on identifying the last remaining cases of the virus, something she said would be like “looking for a needle in a haystack.” And New Zealand will remain at level three for two weeks before officials reassess moving to level two.
Under an alert level four, New Zealanders were told to remain at home other than for essential trips, schools were closed, non-essential businesses were closed, and gatherings canceled. With alert level three, people can extend their social interactions beyond just those in their household on a limited basis, such as to include childcare or the company of one or two people—though these individuals must be “local.”
This week, takeaway businesses can reopen for contactless pick-up or delivery, as can some businesses like construction if they adhere to specific measures meant to mitigate community spread. Businesses that require close personal contact to operate—such as hairdressers, gyms, and many retail shops—will not be able to reopen until New Zealand reaches level two, at which time they’ll be required to take specific additional safety measures.
“I am optimistic that we can continue on a path of success, but let me be clear about two things,” Ardern said. “First, we can only do this if we continue to pull together. And secondly, I will not risk the gains we’ve made and the health of New Zealanders. So if we need to remain at level three, we will.”
New Zealand has had 19 deaths and has reported 1,469 cases of covid-19 since its outbreak began. During the briefing, the country’s top health official Ashley Bloomfield said New Zealand had just one new confirmed case and four new probable cases, all of which can be linked to a known source.
While New Zealand’s measures for mitigating spread were stringent, as with Australia, the two have been able to get a hold on the spread of covid-19. Both have reported low figures for cases as well as deaths when compared to countries like the United States and Italy. Australia has reported just 6,714 cases of covid-19 and 83 deaths.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is nearing 1 million confirmed cases and has seen over 55,000 deaths, according to data from the John Hopkins covid-19 tracker. And while the U.S. population is considerably larger, the government’s approach to tackling the virus has been far less organized and communication has often been botched during our own coronavirus briefings—including the bizarre and dangerous word salad that regularly comes from President Donald Trump. For instance, last week it definitely sounded like he was telling people to drink disinfectants.
When asked about those comments during this week’s briefing, New Zealand’s Bloomfield seemed at a loss for words before later saying that “Under no circumstances should [people] think about doing that.”
Cheers to the parts of the world that are getting their shit together.