With only 19 dead and 1,472 people infected, New Zealand lifted the country’s first containment measures on Monday. “We have won the battle,” said even Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who still remains on guard.
“Hit fast and hit hard”. When New Zealand announced its most restrictive restrictions in modern history in March, its goal was not to slow the coronavirus epidemic, but simply to eradicate it. . “If we do not control it, our health system will be overwhelmed and tens of thousands of New Zealanders will die,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to justify her decisions. “The worst-case scenario is simply intolerable. It would represent the most serious toll in New Zealand history and I will not take this risk.”
On Monday, the 39-year-old woman, who informed in mid-April that she and her ministers were cutting their wages by 20% for 6 months, announced a first relaxation of the measures, going from level 4 alert, the higher, at level 3. “We have won the battle. There is no more widespread and uncontrolled transmission in the country,” she said.
Helped by its isolation from the rest of the world, New Zealand did not wait for the epidemic to get out of control to act. On March 14, anyone who wanted to enter the territory had to quarantine for two weeks. Five days later, when there were 22 patients, the borders were closed. And as of March 26, almost the entire country was shut down.
“In New Zealand, there are not as many beds available in intensive care as in other countries. It is also for this reason that Jacinda Ardern acted very quickly”, explained then the microbiologist of the university Auckland Siouxsie Wiles.
In this country of 5 million inhabitants, all non-essential businesses had to close, including meal delivery services. Schools, offices or beaches were also affected. In addition, the country has implemented a particularly effective testing policy (nearly 8,000 tests per day for a population half as large as in Belgium), which has made it possible to quickly detect patients and isolate them.
Five weeks later, it seems to be paying off. The epidemic is under control and the first measures have been relaxed. “We must remain vigilant so that it continues,” insists Jacinda Ardem all the same. This is why the deconfinement, despite the encouraging figures, will also be done gradually. New Zealanders can, for example, once again indulge in activities such as fishing, hunting, surfing, swimming and even golfing. Retail businesses have been able to reopen as long as there is no physical contact when shopping.
Gatherings of up to ten people are allowed for occasions such as weddings or funerals. Horeca establishments were able to reopen, which also caused long queues as soon as they reopened on Tuesday. As for the schools, they will reopen from this Wednesday even if an attendance rate is still very low.
Be careful all the same
However, there is no excessive triumphalism. The government recalled that social distancing remained the number one principle to apply. At the roadside, illuminated signs continue to display the message “Stay at home, save lives”. On the whole, the population remains disciplined and remains confined. Alert level 3 should remain in effect for at least two weeks. Before possibly being softened again. But Jacinda Ardern has already warned: “We will continue to look for the last cases like needles in a haystack”.