New Zealand will lift its strict coronavirus restrictions next week – as PM Jacinda Ardern said the country had “stopped a wave of devastation”.
New Zealand’s five million residents have been in a strict level four lockdown since March 25, with all but essential work banned and the vast majority of people required to stay at home.
It has 1105 confirmed coronavirus cases, and 12 deaths.
Announcing the move on Monday, Ms Ardern said the country’s toll was small “but we cannot forget that every one is someone’s father, someone’s mum, a relative or a friend, and someone that we have all been united in an effort to protect and to save”.
“We believed that decisive action – going hard and going early – gave us the very best chance of stamping out the virus,” she said.
“And it has. We have done what very few countries have been able to do – we have stopped a wave of devastation.”
She said New Zealand’s coronavirus transmission rate (the number of cases that each person with the virus passes it on to) was 0.48. The world average is 2.5.
“We have among the lowest number of confirmed cases per 100,000 people, in the world,” she said.
In addition, the country has only eight COVID-19 cases without a confirmed connection to another case. It has carried out more than 1000 random coronavirus tests in various centres, and had no positive results.
Ms Ardern said authorities were confident there was no widespread undetected community transmission of the virus in New Zealand.
“The effort of our team of five million has broken the chain of transmission and taken a quantum leap forward in our goal to eliminate the virus,” she said.
New Zealand’s level four lockdown will officially end at 11.59pm on Monday, April 27, after which schools and most businesses will be able to re-open. Level three restrictions will be reviewed after a fortnight.
Ms Ardern left open the possibility of returning to stricter measures if there was a surge in virus cases. She also sounded a note of caution for Kiwis.
“Alert level three allows more economic liberty, like [the operation of] construction, manufacturing and forestry,” she said.
“But it does not allow more social interaction, and for good reason. If we want to make sure we are a health success story and make sure our economy can start to operate again without the virus taking off, we need to get the next phase right.”