Photo: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
New Zealand will lift all domestic COVID-19 restrictions from Tuesday.
There are no active cases of the coronavirus left in New Zealand and no new cases in more than a fortnight.
The only restrictions that will remain will be international border controls.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says new cases may still emerge, so contract tracing will continue to be important.
“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,” Ms Ardern said.
“We will almost certainly see cases here again, and that is not a sign that we have failed, it is a reality of this virus.
“But if and when that occurs, we have to make sure, and we are, that we are prepared.”
She said her government’s focus on containing the virus will be on the country’s borders, where isolation and quarantine measures will continue.
However, Ms Ardern has been in negotiations with Australian authorities about the possibility of a trans-Tasman travel bubble opening in coming months if progress continues to be made in supressing the virus.
Public thanked for ‘determination and focus’
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.
“Having no active cases for the first time since February 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,” said Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the New Zealand director-general of health.
Experts have said a number of factors have helped the nation of 5 million people wipe out the disease, among them Ms Ardern’s decisive action to impose a strict lockdown early in the outbreak.
Just over 1,500 people contracted the virus in New Zealand and 22 people died.
Ms Ardern thanked New Zealanders for sacrifices required to reach the milestone.
“While we are 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,” she 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’.”
“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.”