08 June 2020
New Zealand has declared itself free from the coronavirus and lifted all virus-related restrictions within the country.
Health officials said Monday the last known person infected with coronavirus had recovered.
Border controls will remain in place in an effort to prevent infected people from bringing the virus into New Zealand. All other restrictions will end, including social distancing and limits on economic activity and public gatherings.
New Zealand's 75 days of restrictions included about seven weeks of a strict lockdown in which most businesses were shut and everyone except necessary workers had to stay home.
The South Pacific nation, with a population of five million, reported 1,500 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Twenty-two people died.
Officials said it had been 17 days since the last new coronavirus case was reported. During this period, about 40,000 people were tested for the virus. Overall, New Zealand tested about 300,000 people.
Monday marked the first time since late February that there have been no active coronavirus cases.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference she was "confident" that New Zealand had halted the spread of the virus for now. She praised the people of New Zealand for uniting "in unprecedented ways to crush the virus."
But she added that the country must be prepared to deal with a possible return. "We almost certainly will see cases here again," Ardern said. "And that is not a sign that we have failed, it is a reality of this virus."
She said the most important thing is for the country to stay prepared.
More cases are likely to be imported as people enter the country. For now, New Zealand's border generally remains closed to all but citizens and residents. Everyone who does enter is required to go into quarantine.
Experts say a number of things helped New Zealand get control of COVID-19 while many other nations have struggled. The country's faraway position in the South Pacific gave officials time to see the serious effects the virus had in other countries. Ardern also acted quickly to order a strict lockdown across the country.
Beating the virus will not quickly end the economic pain New Zealand has suffered. Thousands of people have lost their jobs. The tourism industry, which makes up about 10 percent of the economy, was particularly hard hit.
But for many, Monday was a day to celebrate. Ardern said when she heard there were no more active cases, she did a little dance in her living room in front of her two-year-old daughter Neve. Ardern said the child had no idea what was going on, but was still happy to join in the dance.
I'm Bryan Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse. Hai Do was the editor.
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Words in This Story
lockdown – n. the shutting down of society to fight a contagious disease
confident – adj. having a feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something
unprecedented – adj. never having happened before
quarantine – n. the period of time during which a person or animal that has a disease or that might have a disease is kept away from others to prevent the disease from spreading
tourism – n. the business of providing hotels, restaurants, entertainment, etc., for people who are traveling