New Zealand has nobody in hospital with coronavirus and has not discovered a new case for five days, the health ministry said today.
The last remaining hospital patient was discharged last night in Auckland in the latest mark of success for New Zealand’s widely-praised response to the pandemic.
New Zealand only confirmed its first case on February 26, but had shut its borders by March 19 and started imposing a full-scale lockdown on March 26.
The country’s success means the lockdown could be virtually scrapped within weeks, with gatherings of up to 100 already permitted and plans being made to re-open travel to Australia.
The official tally of 1,504 infections has not budged since last Friday, while the death toll of 21 has not increased since May 6.
New Zealand’s tally of coronavirus cases has fallen to a virtual standstill, with no new cases discovered in the last five days and only three since May 11
Only 21 people are currently infected with the virus, none of them sick enough to need hospital treatment.
The tally of hospital patients has fallen to zero for the first time since mid-March in what public health chief Ashley Bloomfield called a ‘good position to be in’.
Only three new infections have been discovered since May 11, and none in the last five days – the longest period so far without a new case.
All of the 21 deaths have been people aged 60 or over – with more than half of them aged above 80, and four of them in their nineties.
More than half of the total 1,504 cases are either imported from abroad or linked to people who had recently travelled.
New Zealand has carried out 267,435 tests and has nearly another 200,000 testing kits in stock, according to official figures.
Speaking earlier this week, prime minister Jacinda Ardern said the country could move to its lowest Level 1 alert as soon as next month.
Church services, weddings and funerals can now take place with up to 100 people and funerals do not need to be registered with health officials in advance.
‘The fact that we are even making these decisions shows the success we’ve had to date as a country in fighting the virus,’ Ardern said.
‘In fact, the increase in gathering size means we now have some of the most permissive settings of any of the countries we compare ourselves to, including Australia.
‘Going hard and early has paid off for the economy, and now we need to just continue the level of vigilance that has got us here.
‘We are still in a global pandemic. Cases continue to grow overseas, and we do still have people coming home, but for the most part, many aspects of life can and should feel much more normal.’
New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern (pictured) said the country could virtually scrap its lockdown measures as soon as next month
The Level 4 measures were eased in late April, and Level 3 became Level 2 earlier this month – with a move down to Level 1 now on the cards.
At Level 1, there are no restrictions on gatherings or public transport while schools, shops and workplaces will all be open.
‘Border entry measures’ would remain in place along with ‘intensive testing’, the government says.
The decision on whether to move to Level 1 will be taken in the second half of June, Ardern said earlier this week.
New Zealand is also considering a ‘travel bubble’ with Australia which would allow residents of both countries to travel across the Tasman Sea.
Ardern said it was ‘over to Australia’ to agree to the plan, which would help both countries to restart their tourism sectors.
Beyond that, health director Bloomfield said the country would consider allowing people in if they had quarantined at home before travelling to New Zealand.
But he warned that Kiwi authorities would have to be ‘confident they were following the same strict public health measures we have in place here’.
New Zealand goes to the polls in September, and Ardern’s re-election was seen as far from certain before the pandemic began.
However, Ardern’s leadership during the health crisis has propelled her Labour Party to a record 57 per cent in a recent opinion poll.
Ardern was at 60 per cent in preferred choice for PM, up more than 20 points on the last poll and the highest score for any leader in the Reid Research poll’s history.