New Zealand declares it's virus-free

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Total relaxation of social restrictions after last patient's recovery, PM Ardern says and does a little dance

Wellington: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday that the country would return to near-normality after the recovery of its last coronavirus patient and a total relaxation of social restrictions.

On Monday midnight, the country will move to alert level 1 (level 4 being total lockdown), removing almost all restrictions previously enforced to control the coronavirus pandemic, reports Efe new.

"Our goal was to come out the other side as quickly and as safely as we could. To a place where our borders continue to be our first line of defence, but all current rules and restrictions on businesses and services are essentially lifted," Ardern said at a press conference. "Today, 75 days later (after the first alert level 4 lockdown was put in place), we are ready."

All restrictions on the number of people at gatherings or funerals will be removed, as well as physical distancing rules, although this is still encouraged.

All economic activity can also resume. Residents are asked to keep tracking their movements, with a diary and the use of QR codes at public businesses and services. Borders, however, remain closed to almost all non-residents. Although the government is in talks with Australia, there is no date confirmed for a trans-Tasman "travel bubble", with Ardern citing the fact that Australia is still registering community transmissions and the New Zealand government remains cautious.

"No one wants to jeopardise the gains that New Zealand has made," Ardern said. She highlighted the border restrictions as key to the loosening of domestic restrictions. "They will continue to be critical and that means applying a really critical analysis if and when we come to a position we believe another country is in a similar position to us and therefore we can safely travel between," the leader said.

Everyone arriving in New Zealand will be tested twice during their 14 day isolation period, she announced, adding that while the virus has been eliminated in New Zealand "for now", it will "almost certainly" see cases in the future.

"We are not immune to what is happening in the rest of the world, but unlike the rest of the world not only have protected New Zealanders' health, we now have a head-start on our economic recovery," she said.

The Prime Minister also said economic activity under level 1 would be operating at just 3.8 percent below normal levels, a smaller impact than expected.

Ardern said she "did a little dance" after the announcement that there were no more active cases in the country after the last patient had recovered and was released from isolation, and 17 days without any new cases of COVID-19 in the country.

New Zealand has recorded 1,154 confirmed cases and 22 deaths. She also thanked her "team of 5 million" for their adherence to the rules put in place early and strictly to prevent the spread of the virus and begin economic recovery.

"Thank you, New Zealand," Ardern said.

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