WELLINGTON, June 8 (Reuters) – New Zealand has eliminated transmission of the novel coronavirus and will lift all containment measures except for border curbs, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday, making the South Pacific nation one of the first countries to do so.
The government will drop social distancing restrictions form midnight on Monday as it moves to a level 1 national alert from Level 2, Ardern told a news conference.
Public and private events, the retail and hospitality industries and all public transport could resume without social distancing norms still in place across much of the world.
“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,” Ardern said.
“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.'”
The South Pacific nation of about 5 million people is emerging from the pandemic while big economies such as Brazil, Britain, India and the United States grapple with the spreading virus.
“We are confident we have eliminated transmission of the virus in New Zealand for now, but elimination is not a point in time, it is a sustained effort,” Ardern added.
There were no active cases for the first time since the virus arrived in New Zealand in late February, the health ministry said. New Zealand has reported 1,154 infections and 22 deaths from the disease.
“Having no active cases for the first time since Feb. 28 is certainly a significant mark in our journey, but as we’ve previously said, ongoing vigilance against COVID-19 will continue to be essential,” Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the director-general of health, said in the statement.
New Zealand has vowed to eliminate, not just contain, the virus, but the health ministry has been cautious about declaring victory.
It said elimination did not mean eradicating the virus permanently, but stopping “chains of transmission” for a period after the last infected person left isolation.
It also required New Zealand to “effectively prevent or contain any future imported cases from overseas”, it added in an emailed statement.