Even as countries across the world grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, New Zealand on Sunday, August 9, marked 100 days without community transmission of COVID-19.
With people attending rugby games at packed stadiums and go to bars and restaurants without the fear of getting infected by the virus, life has returned to normal for many people in the country. However, many worry that the South Pacific nation of 5 million may be getting complacent and not sufficiently preparing for any outbreaks in the future.
"It has been 100 days since the last case of COVID-19 was acquired locally from an unknown source," Nee Zealand's Ministry of Health said in an official media release.
COVID-19 Update— Unite against COVID-19 (@covid19nz) August 9, 2020
There are no new cases of COVID-19 to report in New Zealand today.
It has been 100 days since the last case of COVID-19 was acquired locally from an unknown source. We have 23 active cases of COVID-19 in managed isolation facilities.
In the country, which reported the first known case of COVID-19 on February 26, reported its last case of community transmission on May 1. On Sunday, for the fourth day in a row, no new cases of the virus were reported in the country. New Zealand currently has 23 active cases, all of which are under isolation.
Since the virus outbreak, the country has reported 1,219 confirmed cases and 22 deaths, doing much better than other countries in the fight against the deadly virus. The country has been praised internationally for its effective handling of the pandemic. It has now lifted nearly all of its lockdown restricts, which were first imposed in March.
The country's success in nearly eliminating the virus has been attributed to its early lockdown, tough border restrictions, effective health messaging and aggressive testing, contract tracing, and isolation.
"We must go hard, and go early, and do everything we can to protect New Zealanders health," New Zealand's Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern had said.
New Zealand began introducing prevention measures three days after WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern on 30 January 2020. In the coming weeks, the country continued to strengthen these measures.
According to New Zealand's Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, their strategy was influenced by a report from the WHO–China joint mission in February.
"This report, including the observation that, 'the key learning from China is speed – it's all about the speed. The faster you can find the cases, isolate the cases, and track their close contacts, the more successful you're going to be,' helped influence New Zealand's strategy to 'go early and go hard'," Dr Bloomfield was quoted as saying in a report by WHO.
He added that seeing the virus' devastating impacts in Europe, the government was "determined to minimize the impact of COVID-19" in New Zealand. From late February to March, the country thus progressively strengthened the restrictions.
On March 19, Arden closed the borders to foreigners, when the country had only 28 confirmed cases. Later on, a nationwide lockdown was announced on March 23, when the country had reported only 102 confirmed cases. The whole country was also required to self-quarantine at home on March 26.
The strict lockdown did not allow takeaways, beaches, and driving outside of one's neighbourhood. While the strictest rules were in place for nearly two weeks, the lockdown continued for another two weeks.
The lockdown was also coupled with strict border restrictions - only citizens are allowed to enter the country and those who enter must spend two weeks in a government-approved facility. In addition, those returning home temporarily will be charged 3,100 New Zealand dollars for the facilities, reported CNN.
Along with the lockdown, the health ministry's increased emphasis on testing and pop-up testing centres also played a crucial role in containing the pandemic. On Saturday, the country processed 4,249 tests, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 494,481.
"New Zealand certainly benefited from being a high-income, island country with an advanced health system. But they didn't take anything for granted. They worked concertedly to limit and stop COVID-19 on their shores and support other countries in the Region," WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, Dr Takeshi Kasai said, adding that the country combined strict physical distancing with strong testing, contact tracing, clinical management of those infected, and clear and regular public communication.
Dr Bloomfield added that the government was constantly guided by public health advice and evolving evidence.
"WHO provided a valuable trove of information, collated from many sources, analysed by WHO's own experts and presented very clearly. The Ministry of Health often used or referred to WHO material in our own situation reports and advice to ministers and the public," he said.
He added that the International Health Regulations (2005), known as IHR (2005), also provided sufficient information on the virus and its evolution.
While currently no community spread has been reported in the country, officials have warned against complacency. Experts warn that a second wave of cases is still possible.
"Achieving 100 days without community transmission is a significant milestone. However, as we all know, we can't afford to be complacent," Dr Bloomfield was quoted as saying by BBC.
"We have seen overseas how quickly the virus can re-emerge and spread in places where it was previously under control, and we need to be prepared to quickly stamp out any future cases in New Zealand," he added.
On similar lines, Ardern said the landmark "doesn't lessen any of the risk" of another spike in infections.
"One hundred days is a milestone to mark but, again, we still need to be vigilant regardless," she added.
New Zealand is among a few countries which have achieved the 100-day community transmission milestone. Last month, Taiwan had also hit the milestone.
Many countries which had successfully suppressed the virus saw its re-emergence after the lockdown restrictions were lifted. In the case of Vietnam, while the country went 99 days without community transmission, in July, a 57-year-old man tested positive for the virus in Da Nang.
The area became the epicentre of a new COVID-19 outbreak by the end of July. The country also saw its first death from the virus since the pandemic began.
Similarly, Australia has also seen the re-emergence of COVID-19 in some states, including New South Wales and Victoria. Melbourne, Australia's second-biggest city, has gone into a six-week lockdown due to a surge in cases.Also Read: "Did A Little Dance", Says PM Jacinda Ardern As New Zealand Declares Itself COVID-19 Free