New Zealand no longer has a single person being treated in a hospital for the coronavirus, health officials there announced Wednesday, as the country celebrates five consecutive days of no new cases of the virus.
Ashley Bloomfield, the head of the country’s health ministry, told reporters that the last patient with a confirmed case of COVID-19 had been discharged from Auckland’s Middlemore Hospital.
“I think this is the first time, at least probably in a couple of months, that we haven’t had somebody in hospital,” he said, “so that’s another good position to be in.”
There are just 21 remaining active cases of COVID-19 among New Zealand’s 4.8 million people, Bloomfield said.
The country has had a total of 1,504 confirmed or probable cases of the virus and only 21 deaths.
A relatively remote nation of islands in the Pacific Ocean, New Zealand moved swiftly in mid-March by imposing a nationwide lockdown of more than one month and shutting its borders to noncitizens and nonresidents. It also worked to improve its testing and contact tracing capabilities.
Michael Baker, professor of public health at New Zealand’s University of Otago, told Democracy Now this week that the country has been working to eradicate the virus completely, not just reduce the number of infections.
“You actually throw everything at the pandemic early on,” he said. “So at the point that we had 100 cases, no fatalities, around the 23rd of March, a decision was made to go for this elimination approach, and that meant putting the whole country into this very intense lockdown for the best part of six weeks.”
“It’s a pretty harsh approach, but at the end of that, there was very little virus being transmitted,” he said.
New Zealand has gradually eased the restrictions and is currently at Alert Level 2, which allows businesses to reopen to customers but still restricts most gatherings to fewer than 10 people.
Prime Minister Ardern told New Zealanders on Wednesday that the country is working hard to reopen travel with Australia, which has also seen a declining number of cases.
“Australia has had a few more cases over a period of weeks but still very, very low numbers, so absolutely on the right track,” she said. “New Zealand, none for some days now.”
“So we just want to make sure we’re both in the right spot where we can have travel between us without requiring quarantine because that’s the key,” said Ardern. “I doubt anyone would want to travel for short periods of time if they’re spending two weeks of their holiday in a hotel.”
Such a move could provide an economic boost for both countries. In 2018, New Zealand was the most popular outbound travel destination for Australians and the second most popular for inbound travel (second only to China).