HAVELOCK NORTH, New Zealand – New Zealand has extended its strict lockout for another five days, despite good results in its campaign to eliminate the coronavirus.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that she did not want to reverse efforts by “our team of five million” people to break the chain of transmission, and risked having to “yo-yo” between levels of restrictions.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the start we have made together. But I also feel a huge responsibility to ensure that we don’t lose any of the gains we have made, “she said in a televised press conference.
The health ministry announced on Monday that nine new cases had been discovered, bringing the national total to 1,440, of which more than two-thirds have recovered. Twelve people died, all aged 70 or over.
The initial four-week lockdown – under which people are only allowed to leave their homes for essential work, to shop for groceries or to exercise in their neighborhood – was scheduled to end at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday . But Ardern has said it will be extended until Monday.
The government has followed the advice of top health official Ashley Bloomfield, who said on Sunday that another week was needed to reach the “benchmark” for contact tracing.
Starting Tuesday next week, New Zealand will move to Level 3 restrictions for two weeks. Workplaces that can maintain a physical distance between workers and customers will be allowed to reopen, but for most people, this will mean that they must continue to work and study at home and limit outside contact.
New Zealand followed a “go ahead, get there early” strategy that involved closing the borders and locking the country while the number of cases remained low. As a result, its transmission rate – the number of cases of transmission from each person infected with the virus – is now 0.48, compared to an international average of 2.5 people, Ardern said.
According to the Oxford University Coronavirus Government Response Tracker, New Zealand has one of the lowest death rates in the world and one of the highest test rates. In recent days, health workers have carried out random tests; none of the roughly 1,000 random tests returned positive, Ardern said.