WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Health officials in New Zealand said Monday the last known person in the country infected with the coronavirus had recovered. The island nation seems to have eradicated the virus, for now.
The announcement was greeted with joy around the country, whose five million people will be among the first to welcome throngs of fans back into sports stadiums, embrace crowded concerts, and remove seating restrictions from flights.
It has been 17 days since the last new case was reported, while 40,000 individuals have been tested, bringing the total number tested to about 300,000. Monday marked the first time since late February there are no active cases.
“We are confident we have eliminated transmission of the virus in New Zealand for now, but elimination is not a point in time, it is a sustained effort,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at a news conference.
More cases are likely to be imported as people enter the country. For now, the border remains shut to all but citizens and residents, with some limited exceptions. Everybody who does enter has to go into quarantine.
Ardern announced that the cabinet had agreed to remove almost all remaining virus restrictions at midnight, with the exception of the border strictures.
“We can hold public events without limitations. Private events such as weddings, functions, and funerals without limitations,” Ardern said. “Retail is back without limitations. Hospitality is back without limitations. Public transport and travel across the country is fully opened.”
Just over 1,500 people contracted the virus in New Zealand, including 22 who died, out of a population of 4.9 million. By comparison, Albany County has had 1,799 lab-confirmed positives and 115 dead among a population that is about one-sixteenth of the size.
Experts say a number of factors have helped New Zealand wipe out the disease. Its isolated location in the South Pacific gave it vital time to see the devastating spread of the virus in other countries. Ardern also acted decisively by imposing a strict lockdown early in the outbreak.
She said her government’s focus will be on the country’s borders, where isolation and quarantine will continue.
Eliminating the virus won’t end the economic pain for the country. Thousands of people have lost their jobs. The tourism industry, which accounts for about 10% of the economy, has been particularly hard-hit.
But Monday was a time of celebration for many. Ardern said that when she heard there were no more active cases, she did a little dance in her living room in front of her daughter Neve, who turns 2 this month. Ardern said the toddler had no idea what was going on but was happy to join her.
- Cuomo to expand community vaccination kit program, includes one new Albany site
- Majority of U.S. Catholics say abortion should be legal in most cases, survey shows
- Buffalo Bills arrive in Kansas City ahead of AFC Championship
- Big offenses, overlooked defenses in AFC title game
- Netflix series “Blown Away” Season Two Is Back