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It's official: Kiwis are COVID-free after recovery of final case

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New Zealand is COVID-19 free after Kiwi health authorities reported the recovery of the country’s last confirmed case, as well as no new cases for the 17th straight day.

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The milestone comes ahead of an announcement by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at 3:00pm NZST on Monday, when she is expected to do away with all COVID-related societal restrictions.

It is also a significant step on the road to elimination of the virus, which should be confirmed next week.

“This is really good news for the person concerned, and it’s also something the rest of New Zealand can take heart from,” NZ’s Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said.

New Zealand recorded its first case of COVID-19 on February 28, prompting the Government into firm and fast action against the deadly virus.

On March 23, when cases numbered 100 for the first time, Ardern imposed a strict lockdown which would tally 51 days.

That lockdown kept Kiwis inside their houses, except for trips for health reasons or the supermarket.

Unlike Australia, which did not enact such tough restrictions and still has more than 400 active cases, New Zealand is now on the brink of elimination.

Elimination, according to the Ministry of Health’s own definition, will take place on June 15 after New Zealand records a 28-day run without any cases spread through community transmission.

Public health authorities have urged against commemorating that day to avoid complacency.

“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,” Bloomfield said.

Michael Baker, Professor of Public Health at the University of Otago, said this signalled an end to “only the first battle in what will be a long-term war against this virus”.

“This risk will rise again in New Zealand as we gradually increase the numbers of incoming travellers. It will also rise during the coming winter when coronaviruses are more transmissible,” he warned.

New Zealand’s crushing of the virus has shifted debate firmly towards the nature of the restrictions, including social distancing, gathering size caps, and limits on the operations of some businesses, particularly in tourism and hospitality.

Ardern has been urged to shed her health-first mantra by many in business and the Opposition.

Without any active cases in the country, she will surely announce the end of those restrictions, though leaving in place border controls.

The New Zealand and Australian governments are working towards the re-opening of borders for regular travel.

As of Monday, almost 300,000 tests have been carried out in New Zealand, where 1504 have contracted the virus and 22 have died.

-AAP

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