On Thursday 11th June 2020, local media in New Zealand reported that the country may become the first to successfully eliminate the novel coronavirus from its territory if no new case is detected in the next eight days.
No COVID-19 case has been reported in the country for 20 consecutive days, with the last one confirmed by officials on May 22. The report said New Zealand will officially be free of the virus if no cases are reported in the next week. Health officials say elimination is reached after 28 days, two incubation periods of no new infections.
‘…one of the first countries in the world…’
After weeks of lockdown, the prime minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern danced for joy when she announced restrictions were to be lifted as the country heads towards eliminating the coronavirus. She announced that all social and economic restrictions except border controls were being lifted because New Zealand was free of the coronavirus, one of the first countries in the world to return to pre-pandemic normality. Public and private events, the retail and hospitality industries and all public transport were allowed to resume.
The prime minister thanked the five million people of New Zealand and said “While the job is not done, there is no denying this is a milestone, thank you, New Zealand. 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.”
New Zealand people are emerging from the pandemic after 75 days of restrictions which included about seven weeks of a strict lockdown in which most businesses were shut and everyone except essential workers had to stay home. Ardern vowed to eliminate, not merely contain, the virus, which meant stopping transmission for two weeks after the last known case was cleared.
Clear leadership and an engaged public
This news brings bright hope for the world, we believe clear leadership and an engaged public produced this result. The prime minister has received global praise for her leadership during the pandemic.
New Zealand had some advantages in tackling the virus; they had the benefit of time; their first case of coronavirus was confirmed on 28th February 2020, well over a month after the United States confirmed its first case. But the real key to New Zealand’s success appears to be an approach that could be applied anywhere; moving swiftly, testing widely, and relying heavily on good science.
Like many countries, New Zealand had models that showed that a potential coronavirus outbreak could be devastating if no action was taken. New Zealand responded relatively fast.
On 14th March 2020 anyone entering the country had to self-isolate for two weeks, it was among the toughest border restrictions in the world. At the time, the country had six cases.
On 19th March 2020 all foreigners were banned from entering the country, there were 28 confirmed cases.
On 23rd March 2020 New Zealand announced that the country was going into lockdown, there were 102 confirmed cases and no deaths. Non-essential businesses were closed, events and gatherings cancelled and schools closed to all children except those of essential workers. Employers were told to allow working from home where possible, public transport was reserved for essential workers, and discretionary domestic air travel between regions was banned.
Strictest level of lockdown
At midnight on 25th March 2020, New Zealand moved to the strictest level of lockdown, with people being told not to leave home except for essential exercise near the home, while maintaining social distancing.
On 9th April 2020, despite a decline in cases, New Zealand tightened border restrictions so that all citizens and permanent residents arriving in New Zealand were required to spend two weeks quarantined in an approved facility rather than at home.
Decisive action, going hard and going early, helped to stamp out the worst of the virus. This strong action was taken for a few reasons. New Zealand is a key departure route to Pacific Islands and the country has a responsibility to protect its Pacific neighbours and swift actions were taken for the benefit of New Zealanders.
New Zealand ramped up its testing, to the point that they could carry out up to 8,000 tests per day. To date, New Zealand carried out 424,719 tests. The real sign that New Zealand’s testing worked is its test positivity rate. A good benchmark is to have at least 10 negative cases for every one positive case confirmed. This means if a state or country carries out testing and comes back with positive cases of around 9% or under, then it’s likely that it is testing well.
‘…one of the highest testing capacities in the world…’
New Zealand’s test positivity rate was around 1%, suggesting that there wasn’t widespread community transmissions slipping under the radar. It was noted in other countries around the world that each person infected with coronavirus infects around 2.5 people. Under New Zealand’s lockdown, that dropped to 0.4, less than half a person infected. New Zealand now has one of the highest testing capacities in the world.
Relying on good science
“In New Zealand, success has been a wonderful link between good science, and brilliant leadership, and the two together are I think really highly effective,” said Professor Michael Baker, from Otago University’s Public Health Department who throughout the lockdown period, appeared at regular press conferences alongside the president.
Although New Zealand is seen as a success story of the coronavirus crisis, the prime minister has pointed out that the battle against Covid-19 would continue until there is a vaccine.
The one new case
Unfortunately on Monday 6th July the county reported one new case of COVID-19. The case is a man in his 20s who arrived in New Zealand from London on 4th July via Doha and Sydney. The man was taken straight from Auckland Airport to the quarantine facility as he had symptoms of COVID-19 upon arrival. The Public Health Unit will be interviewing the man to find out more details.