The elimination strategy has succeeded with the announcement that there are now zero known active cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand for the first time since it arrived in the country in late February.
The number of active cases has been dropping since it peaked in early April with 929 active cases, and now, after 17 days with no new cases, the country has been declared free of Covid-19.
Auckland Regional Public Health has informed the Ministry of Health that its last remaining case has been symptom free for 48 hours and is therefore regarded as recovered. The person, who had been linked to the St Margaret’s Hospital & Rest Home cluster in Auckland, has now been released from isolation.
“This is really good news for the person concerned, and it’s also something the rest of New Zealand can take heart from,” said the director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, in a statement.
“Having no active cases for the first time since February 28 is certainly a significant mark in our journey but as we’ve previously said, ongoing vigilance against Covid-19 will continue to be essential.”
“Having no active cases is an important milestone on the way to Covid-19 elimination,” said Michael Baker, public health expert at the University of Otago. “These active cases are not themselves a major concern as we know about them and can ensure they are safely isolated. The worry has always been about the undetected cases that can cause outbreaks if we come out of lockdown too swiftly.”
A move to alert level one, expected to be announced today by the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, would be “a statement that we have achieved the goal of eliminating the Covid-19 virus from this country”, said Baker.
Read more expert responses here.
The last known active case has a complex path to recovery. The individual had earlier been listed as a probable case but was removed when they tested negative for Covid-19. Then at a later date when they again became unwell, they tested positive. They were then included in the national tally as a confirmed case.
A ministry spokesperson continued: “Further analysis confirmed that they did not have a Covid-19 infection the first time around and our reporting now reflects that more accurately. The data table on the Ministry website has changed to reflect the date they were confirmed as being infected.
The total number of confirmed cases in New Zealand, as reported to the World Health Organisation, remains at 1,154. The combined total of confirmed and probable cases remains at 1,504.
A timeline of the virus in New Zealand
February 28: The first case of Covid-19 is confirmed in New Zealand – a 60-year-old who had flown here from Iran, via Bali.
March 11: The WHO declares the Covid-19 outbreak an official pandemic.
March 14: It is announced that all people entering the country from overseas must self-isolate for 14 days, excluding travellers from the Pacific Islands. Travel to the Pacific is heavily restricted. Cruise ships are banned from docking in the country.
March 16: Jacinda Ardern says international visitors who don’t quarantine will be deported. The Reserve Bank declares an emergency cash rate cut and Air New Zealand stops many services and halts share trading.
March 17: The government announces a $12.1b package to support workers, businesses, health and income support.
March 19: New Zealand’s borders are closed to all but returning New Zealand citizens, permanent residents and their families. All indoor gatherings of over 100 people are banned.
March 21: The four-level alert system is announced, and Ardern says the country is in level two. She asks those over 70 to self-isolate in their homes. Non-essential domestic travel is discouraged and those who can are asked to work from home.
March 23: There is an immediate move to level three as the number of cases in New Zealand surpasses 100. Two cases are treated as community transmission. Schools will be closed from March 24, all non-essential business will close and domestic travel is heavily restricted. In 48 hours the country will move to level four.
March 25: A state of emergency is declared and the country prepares for level four, for a minimum of four weeks, at midnight.
March 29: New Zealand’s first Covid-related death is recorded, a woman in her 70s from the West Coast. Around 2% of cases appear to be community transmission.
April 2: The largest number of new cases in one day is recorded, 89.
April 7: The number of recovered cases outweighs the number of new cases for the first time.
April 17: The number of new cases hits single digits for the first time.
April 20: Ardern announces the country will stay in alert level four for an additional five days, until midnight on Monday, April 27. After that, the country will move to alert level three for two weeks, before the situation is reviewed.
April 27: At 11.59pm, New Zealand moves into alert level three.
May 4: The first zero result case result since March 16.
May 11: Cabinet decides move to level two will happen on Thursday, May 14
May 14: The 2020 Budget was revealed, which included a $50b Covid-19 response fund and an extension of the wage subsidy scheme.
May 15: The global Covid-19 death toll surpasses 300,000.
May 16: The total number of active cases drops to below 50 for the first time.
May 18: Schools reopen for the first time in weeks.
May 21: Bars are allowed to open for the first time since lockdown, but strict measures are in place to enforce social distancing.
May 25: A decision on moving to alert level one will be made no later than June 22, Jacinda Ardern announces. Gatherings of up to 100 will be allowed from Friday, May 29.
May 28: There are no new cases of Covid-19 and the total number of active cases drops to just eight in New Zealand. The total number of deaths related to Covid-19 rises by one to 22.
May 29: There is only one active case of Covid-19 left in New Zealand.
June 3: Jacinda Ardern announces that alert level one will essentially mean the end of Covid-19-related rules and restrictions, but people will be encouraged to follow some “golden rules”. New Zealand could now move to level one as soon as next week.
June 4: All arrivals into the country will be tested for the coronavirus starting next week, it is announced.
June 8: For the 17th consecutive day, there are zero new cases of Covid-19, and for the first time since the outbreak, there are also zero active cases.