New Zealand has moved to level one, the lowest of a four-tier alert system in a COVID-19 response that has been hailed as the best in the world to the global pandemic.
Under new rules, social distancing is not required and there are no limits on public gatherings, but borders remain closed to foreigners.
New Zealand has reported no new Covid-19 cases for more than two weeks and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters 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.
“While the job is not done, there is no denying this is a milestone. So can I finish with a very simple, ‘Thank you, New Zealand’.”
‘NZ’s Sustained Effort’
New Zealand first went into lockdown on 25 March, setting up a new four-stage alert system and going in at level four, where most businesses were shut, schools closed and people told to stay at home.
After more than five weeks, it moved to level three in April, allowing takeaway food shops and some non-essential businesses to re-open.
Under the new rules, all schools and workplaces can open. Weddings, funerals and public transport can resume without any restrictions. Social distancing is no longer required but will be encouraged.
The country’s borders remain closed to foreign travellers, and rules remain in place requiring New Zealanders arriving from abroad to go through a 14-day period of isolation or quarantine.
New Zealand Samoans have been able to travel back to Auckland from Apia on weekly flights, and reportedly well looked after in hotels over the mandatory isolation period.
PM Ardern warned that the country would “certainly see cases again”, adding that “elimination is not a point in time, it is a sustained effort”.
New Zealand has recorded 1,154 confirmed cases and 22 deaths from Covid-19 since the virus arrived in late February, but has been widely praised for its handling of the crisis.