New Zealand claims it has stopped community transmission of Covid-19, effectively eliminating the virus.
With new cases in single figures for several days – one on April 26 – PM Jacinda Ardern said the virus was “currently” eliminated.
However, officials have warned against complacency, saying it does not mean a total end to new coronavirus cases.
The news came hours before New Zealand moved out of its toughest level of social restrictions.
From April 28, some non-essential business, healthcare and education activity will be able to resume.
Most people will still be required to remain at home at all times and avoid all social interactions.
PM Ardern said at the daily government briefing: “We are opening up the economy, but we’re not opening up people’s social lives.”
New Zealand has reported fewer than 1,500 confirmed or probable cases of coronavirus and 19 deaths.
The country’s Director-General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield, said the low number of new cases in recent days “does give us confidence that we have achieved our goal of elimination”.
Ashley Bloomfield warned that “elimination” did not mean there would be no new cases “but it does mean we know where our cases are coming from”.
PM Ardern said there was “no widespread undetected community transmission in New Zealand”, adding: “We have won that battle.”
However, the prime minister said New Zealand “must remain vigilant if we are to keep it that way”.
New Zealand brought in some of the toughest restrictions in the world on travel and activity early on in the pandemic, when it only had a few dozen cases.
The country closed its borders, started enforcing quarantine of all arrivals in the country, brought in a stringent lockdown and mounted an extensive testing and contact tracing operation.
Beaches, waterfronts and playgrounds were shut on March 26, as were offices and schools. Bars and restaurants were also closed, including for takeaway and delivery.
PM Ardern said modeling indicated New Zealand could have had more than 1,000 cases a day if it had not brought in the lockdown so early.
She said New Zealand could never know how bad it would have been but that “through our cumulative actions we have avoided the worst”.
The country’s remote location and easily sealable borders played in its favor when the virus broke out, experts say.
However, the government has also been praised for the clarity of its messaging throughout the crisis.