New Zealand claims victory in fight against coronavirus

9 April 2020, 16:58

Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand can win the battle against coronavirus
Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand can win the battle against coronavirus. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said her country is "turning a corner" in its fight against the coronavirus.

The country has recorded a decline in coronavirus cases for four straight days after just 29 new cases were reported on Thursday, bringing the total infections to 1,239.

Only one person has died in New Zealand after contracting Covid-19, while only 14 people are currently in hospital. A total of 317 people have recovered from the illness.

Ms Ardern hailed her government's early, strict lockdown measures, along with the efforts of Kiwis across the nation, as the reason behind the country's success in battling the virus.

"We are turning a corner, and your commitment means our plan is working," she said.

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The country - with a population of just below five million - has been on lockdown for just over two weeks and will remain so for another fortnight.

Its efforts suggest that New Zealand is on track to eliminate the virus, so long as people continue to abide by the measures.

Ms Ardern introduced tough social measures including a near society-wide lockdown and restrictions on businesses.

"At the halfway mark I have no hesitation in saying, that what New Zealanders have done over the last two weeks is huge," she added.

"In the face of the greatest threat to human health we have seen in over a century, Kiwis have quietly and collectively implemented a nationwide wall of defence.

"You are breaking the chain of transmission. And you did it for each other."

New Zealand has reported just one coronavirus-related death so far
New Zealand has reported just one coronavirus-related death so far. Picture: PA

New Zealand's lockdown is due to be relaxed at midnight on 22 April, however the progress made means the measures could be dropped as early as 20 April.

From Friday, anyone entering the country will be required to quarantine for a fortnight, a move similar to one imposed in Australia.

Police will also set up roadblocks around New Zealand to stop people from travelling to and from their beach houses or to prevent them from visiting their family over the Easter period.

"As we head in to Easter I say thank you to you and your bubble," Ms Ardern said.

"We have what we need to win this marathon.

"You have stayed calm, you've been strong, you've saved lives, and now we need to keep going."

Police also warned people not to drive to their holiday homes over Easter otherwise they could be arrested.

"It's simple - travelling to and from different towns and cities risks spreading Covid-19, and puts lives at risk," police said.

New Zealand has benefitted from time, geography and widespread testing when battling Covid-19
New Zealand has benefitted from time, geography and widespread testing when battling Covid-19. Picture: PA

How is New Zealand beating coronavirus?

Despite being on the same side of the world as China, the country is geographically fairly isolated from the rest of the world.

It also has fewer flights than many other places, said Auckland University microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles.

Ms Ardern echoed this idea on Thursday, saying that being an island was a "distinct advantage in our ability to eliminate the virus."

It also had the advantage of time.

New Zealand's first confirmed case of coronavirus was reported on 28 February, almost a month after the first case in the UK.

"I think we had a little bit more time to think about it, and we could learn from the experience of China," said Professor Michael Baker, from Otago University's Public Health Department.

It has also implemented widespread testing. New Zealand has carried out 51,165 tests to date, while the UK, with a population 13 times as large, has only tested roughly four times as many people - 208,837.

Prof Baker said he had been "really disappointed" that the UK had not managed to fare better than New Zealand, despite having better access to science resources.

He added: "We have the same access to the same knowledge as you do -- the whole world has seen this coming, it's like a slow-moving tsunami, it hasn't changed its characteristics at all, and the virus is very stable."