Almost all coronavirus restrictions in New Zealand will be lifted tomorrow, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced, after the country reported no active cases.
Schools and workplaces will be able to open under the new “level 1” rules, with no limitations on gatherings or domestic travel.
Social distancing, however, is still encouraged and Ardern said New Zealand’s international borders will remain shut to non-residents to prevent new outbreaks. Residents arriving in New Zealand will still have to quarantine for two weeks.
New Zealand currently has no active coronavirus cases, and no positive cases reported in the past 17 days. There has been no one receiving treatment in hospital for Covid-19 for the past 12 days and it has been 40 days since the last case of community transmission.
“This freedom from restrictions relies though heavily on the ongoing role that our border controls will play in keeping the virus out … The virus will be in our world for some time to come,” Ardern said at a press conference Monday.
The announcement came as the global number of confirmed coronavirus infections surpassed 7 million on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tally, with more than 402,000 people killed. New Zealand has had 1,504 confirmed cases and 22 deaths.
Ardern said she had danced from excitement on hearing the news that New Zealand currently has no active Covid cases.
“It was very exciting information to hear, so I confess that when I heard that information I did do a – I don’t even know if I could describe it as a dance – some semi-coordinated movement around the lounge,” the PM said during a Facebook live Monday.
New Zealand’s lockdown timetable
The first case of coronavirus was confirmed in New Zealand on February 28 – more than a month after the United States confirmed its first infection.
On March 14, when the country had six cases, Ardern announced that anyone entering the country would need to self isolate for two weeks, which at the time was among the toughest border restrictions in the world. Foreign nationals were banned from entering the country on March 20.
Days later, on March 23 – with no deaths and when there were 102 confirmed cases – Ardern announced the country was entering “level three” lockdown. Non-essential businesses were closed, events and gatherings canceled 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.
At midnight on March 25, New Zealand moved to the strictest level 4 lockdown, with people told not to leave home except for essential exercise near the home, while maintaining social distancing.
On April 9, despite a decline in cases, Ardern 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.
The country has also said it has one of the highest testing capacities in the world.
Travel bubble looms?
New Zealand and Australia have been in discussions to establish a “travel bubble,” which would allow residents to travel freely between the neighboring nations without a need for quarantine.
Both countries have mostly controlled their local coronavirus outbreaks and have large tourism industries which have been severely impacted by widespread travel restrictions.
However, Ardern warned Monday that such a corridor could still be months away.
“I don’t want New Zealand businesses or even Kiwis who want to travel across the ditch to be given a false start. I’d rather share timelines when we have much more certainty,” she said.
“(Australia is) making progress state by state, but it’s not universal.”