Jacinda Ardern said the country had so far managed to avoid the worst of the pandemic by adopting its “go hard and go early” approach to tackling the virus, but warned against complacency in the coming days.
Ms Ardern’s government has decided to allow a partial reopening of the economy after several days of new cases in single figures, with just five coronavirus cases reported on Monday.
“There is no widespread undetected community transmission in New Zealand. We have won that battle. But we must remain vigilant if we are to keep it that way,” she said.
New Zealand’s coronavirus strategy saw strict measures introduced early to keep cases low, with officials moving quickly to lockdown on 25 March, when schools, nonessential workplaces and social gatherings were closed.
“Elimination means we may well reach zero, but we may well then have small numbers of cases coming up again,” said Ms Ardern, noting that small increases in cases would not mean the strategy had failed.
The county has recorded fewer than 1,500 cases of Covid-19 and only 19 deaths as of Monday, according to data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre.
However, while New Zealand’s approach has appeared to be successful in containing the virus, Ms Ardern warned social distancing restrictions would still apply.
“We are opening up the economy, but we’re not opening up people’s social lives,” she added.
From midnight on Monday, certain businesses such as construction companies will be allowed to reopen, while the public has been told to stick to a small “bubble” of close friends or family and to stay two metres away from others.
Mass gatherings are still banned, shopping centres will remain shut, and most children will continue to stay home from school.
The country’s border will also remain closed.
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