Here’s how New Zealand is trying to wipe out COVID-19 entirely from its country (updated)

new zealand coronavirus cases deaths
Photo via Pedro Szekely/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)
  • The country went to a strict lockdown for 35 days
  • Its geography almost certainly helped in the fight
  • New Zealand has taken a hit in its tourism and trade industries

New Zealand’s coronavirus cases shrunk to zero new coronavirus cases on May 5 for the first time since its residents went into lockdown in March, indicating that its strict efforts to wipe out COVID-19 might be paying off. 

Since New Zealand’s first outbreak on Feb. 28, the country has only seen 1,138 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 21 deaths, as of May 6, and it ranked 82nd in the world in confirmed cases. By July 31, those numbers had risen to 1,560 cases and 22 deaths. People around the world applauded its quick containment of the virus, but critics say it may have come with too high of an economic cost. 

A strict level 4 lockdown from March 23 to April 27 was a vital part of New Zealand’s approach to thwarting the coronavirus. During the lockdown, the government instructed citizens to stay at home or exercise in their neighborhood; severely limited travel; and closed down all public venues, schools, and businesses with the exception of essential services like supermarkets and pharmacies. Travel into the country was prohibited to everyone except citizens and residents—who were required to self-isolate for 14 days upon reentry. 

Not everybody was happy with those restrictions, though.

“The costs of trying to maintain eradication are just going to be astronomical—I don’t believe that it’s sensible,” Simon Thornley, a senior epidemiology lecturer at the University of Auckland, said in an interview with Time. “The small-business people who have put a lot of time and effort into their livelihoods are going to have it taken away through this lockdown.”

The lockdown isn’t the only factor that’s played an important role. For example, geography also has likely been an advantage for New Zealand. As a relatively isolated island nation, New Zealand’s ability to “control entry points” was crucial, public health professor Michael Baker said in an interview with Time. The country also has a low population density. Time reports 1.66 million people live in Auckland, the biggest city in the country, which is less than one-twentieth of New York City and which has become the U.S. epicenter.

Although the economy has been affected by the lockdown, particularly in tourism and trade, proponents for the strict measures point out that it’s better to be strict now and fix the problem than to have to enter into a cycle of lockdowns in the future. 

On April 27, New Zealand shifted from a phase 4 lockdown to phase 3 restrictions. Now Kiwis can slowly begin resuming work and school, although the government encourages citizens to stay home as often as possible. The Washington Post reports that New Zealand and Australia are planning a “travel bubble” that would allow people to resume international journeys between the two countries. 

On June 8, it was reported that there are New Zealand’s coronavirus cases had dropped to zero and that it will return to normal, everyday life. Those who are traveling from abroad, though, will continue to be isolated and quarantined.

In July, it was reported that a 32-year-old man broke quarantine to go shopping and that he could face up to six months in jail. He tested positive for COVID-19 the day after he was caught briefly escaping from his hotel room.

On Aug. 9, it was reported that New Zealand had 100-straight days of zero community spread. The country’s borders are still closed to non-New Zealanders. But only one day later, four new coronavirus cases were discovered, and some parts of the country have gone back into lockdown.

Sources: New Zealand Ministry of Health, New Zealand Government, Time, Reuters, Washington Post

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