New Zealand says coronavirus ‘eliminated’, lifts nearly all curbs

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WELLINGTON: New Zealand has eliminated transmission of the coronavirus domestically and will lift all containment measures except for border controls, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said yesterday, making it one of the first countries to do so.

Public and private events, the retail and hospitality industries and all public transport could resume without social distancing norms still in place across much of the world, she said.

"While the job is not done, there is no denying this is a milestone... Thank you, New Zealand," Ms Ardern told reporters.

"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."

The South Pacific nation of about five million people is emerging from the pandemic while big economies such as Brazil, Britain, India and the US still grapple with the virus.

This was largely due to 75 days of restrictions including about seven weeks of a strict lockdown in which most businesses were shut and everyone except essential workers had to stay at home.

"Today, 75 days later, we are ready," Ms Ardern told a news conference, announcing the government would drop social distancing restrictions from midnight yesterday and move to a level 1 national alert from Level 2.

Border controls would remain and everyone entering the country would be tested, she said.

There were no active cases in New Zealand for the first time since the virus arrived in late February, the health ministry said. New Zealand has reported 1,154 infections and 22 deaths from the disease.

New Zealanders cheered the lifting of curbs and the topic quickly trended on Twitter.

Rugby fans, in particular, were looking forward to returning to stadiums to watch this weekend's opening games of the domestic competition.

Ms Ardern said she did a "little dance" when she was told there were no more active Covid-19 cases in New Zealand, surprising her two-year-old daughter, Neve.

"She was caught a little by surprise and she joined it having absolutely no idea why I was dancing around the lounge.

"She enjoyed it nevertheless," Ms Ardern said. - REUTERS