New Zealand may be turning the corner in its COVID-19 outbreak after confirming 53 daily cases, down from 83 the previous day.
Monday’s result is the first time case numbers have fallen since the outbreak was emerged on August 17.
Within hours of that first case, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government plunged the country into a nationwide lockdown.
On Monday, Ms Ardern announced the first loosening of those restrictions from the hyper-tough level four lockdown.
From Wednesday, everywhere south of Auckland – including Wellington, which has had 15 cases in the outbreak – will move to a slightly less restrictive level three lockdown.
Level three keeps limits on almost all social gatherings, but allows for more businesses to open. That includes cafes and restaurants, which will open for takeaway services.
Northland, the region north of Auckland, will go to level three on Friday should wastewater testing turn up negative results this week.
The 1.7 million residents of Auckland did not receive such good news, with Ms Ardern confirming a level four lockdown for at least another fortnight.
The 53 cases announced on Monday were all in Auckland.
While Kiwis have been buoyed by the news, the fly in the ointment is that the drop in positive tests correlates with a fall in overall tests.
On Sunday, more than 23,000 tests were reported, but on Monday, health officials reported 16,000.
“I know we all feel encouraged that our number is lower (and) I know that we are willing for that trend to remain,” Ms Ardern said.
“It is too premature to say we have a trend yet.
“We are seeing a decreasing of cases outside households … but the job is not yet done. We do need to keep going.”
The 53 new cases means the outbreak has infected 562 Kiwis, 547 in Auckland and 15 in Wellington.
There are 37 cases in hospital, including five in a stable condition in intensive care. There are three people on ventilators.
On Monday, NZ also recorded its first likely death from a side effect of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
Health officials said a woman died of myocarditis, inflammation of the heart, after being vaccinated, but insist the benefits of being vaccinated outweigh the side effects.
NZ has administered 3.3 million doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
Despite surging vaccine rates, Ms Ardern maintained the country would not run out of doses, contrary to recent media reports.