As many countries around the world continue to battle the aggressive outbreak of the coronavirus, New Zealand just marked 100 days since the last locally acquired coronavirus case was recorded . Since the outbreak began earlier this year, the South Pacific nation with a population of 5 million has confirmed 1,220 cases of the virus. So far, 1,175 persons have recovered and 22 deaths have been recorded. 23 cases remain active in managed isolation centers and all the recent patients acquired the virus while outside the country.
“Go hard and go early.”
The incredible feat was explained in a press release by the country’s ministry of health on Sunday, August 9, the 100th-day mark . Life in the country has almost returned to normal as schools and businesses continue to reopen and sports activities are at their peak. Local and international health officials are warning the citizens against premature complacency, but everyone seems eager to return to normal life.
New Zealand put up a fierce fight – on time – against the viral outbreak . While other countries were still contemplating closing their borders and doubting the authenticity of the outbreak, New Zealand went into a level-3 nationwide lockdown in late March with only 100 confirmed cases. They immediately began testing thousands of citizens daily and isolating all positive cases. These aggressive efforts put a stop to the local spread of the virus and the lockdown was gradually eased throughout May and June.
New Zealand is one of the few countries in the world that adopted a tight-rein strategy on controlling the pandemic. They were not only focused on slowing the spread of the virus but they also planned toward elimination from the onset.
“It was good science and great political leadership that made the difference,” said Professor Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago . “If you look around the globe at countries that have done well, it’s usually that combination.”
Although the country has a relatively small population, which contributed to the swift management of the crisis, Baker says New Zealand excelled mostly because its leaders did not separate the concept of saving lives from saving the economy.
“The whole Western World has terribly mismanaged this threat, and they’re realizing this now,” Baker added, stating that dozens of powerful world leaders are now looking to the small island country for answers.
New Zealand took the aggressive route – here’s how they did it
So far, the country has completed over 500,000 coronavirus tests and has continued to test thousands of citizens every day.
New Zealand confirmed its index case of COVID-19 in Auckland on February 28, and as of March 19, 102 persons had tested positive to the virus. Following a four-level alert system of rolling out lockdown protocols, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ordered the cancellation of indoor gatherings of more than 100 people excluding schools, workplaces, public transport, and supermarkets. Ardern also locked down the country’s borders to all travelers except New Zealand citizens.
On March 21, the alert level was set to 2, preventing elderly people above the age of 70 and immune-compromised persons from leaving their homes. On March 23, the alert increased to a 3 where schools were ordered to close down indefinitely, effective immediately. On March 25, the alert level was finally set to 4 and all non-essential public locations were shut down including bars, restaurants churches, pools and parks.
As of June 8, none of the 40,000 coronavirus tests in the past 17 days had yielded a positive result, and the country proceeded to lift all restrictions. Life returned to normal almost immediately, although the citizens were still being warned to take extra caution at all times.
According to the country’s ministry of health, eliminating the virus had been the ultimate goal from the start. “Elimination does not mean eradicating the virus permanently from New Zealand; rather it is being confident we have eliminated chains of transmission in our community for at least 28 days and can effectively contain any future imported cases from overseas,” their website reads.
New Zealand was one of the few countries where masks did not become an immediate culture since the people barely had access to the protective accessory. However, the country’s government is presently stocking up on masks in the event of a second wave. The country has natural advantages working in their favor, such as a small population of 5 million with only 18 people per square kilometer. The country also has no land borders in any direction, and it’s a lot easier to control immigration by air and sea.
An end to the 102-day streak as more local cases break out
A swift three-day level 3 lockdown has been imposed on Auckland, effective as of Wednesday, August 12, as four new locally acquired cases of the virus have been recorded and effectively isolated . The rest of the country will go into a level 2 lockdown. The new patients are all members the same family and have not left the country recently.
Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city with a population of about 1.6 million and authorities are scampering to trace all contacts of the family. The citizens are beginning to panic-buy and form extremely long lines outside supermarkets. Suppliers have begun to limit staple items such as tissue paper, hand sanitizer, and food items to meet the high demand.
It is estimated that about 28% of the city’s total workforce, roughly 25,000 jobs, would be affected within the three-day lockdown.
According to Prime Minister Ardern, the lockdown was a “precautionary approach” to enable the authorities to trace the contacts of the family and clamp down on further spread as quickly as possible. The country has been recurrently praised in recent times for managing the viral crisis with impressively proactive measures, and yet again, they are ready to tackle the outbreak aggressively.
“This is something we have prepared for,” Ardern said at a news conference . “We have had 102 days and it was easy to feel New Zealand was out of the woods. No country has gone as far as we did without having a resurgence. And because we were the only ones, we had to plan. And we have planned.”
Keep Reading: Long-term symptoms, complications of COVID-19
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