New Zealand says it has stopped community transmission of Covid-19, effectively eliminating the virus.
With new cases in single figures over several days, one on Sunday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the virus was “currently” removed.
But officials have warned against complacency, saying it does not mean a complete end to new coronavirus cases.
The news comes hours before New Zealand breaks out of its toughest level of social restrictions.
Starting Tuesday, some non-essential business, healthcare and educational activities may resume.
Most people will be required to stay home at all times and avoid all social interactions.
We are opening the economy, but we are not opening people’s social lives, “Ardern said in the government’s daily briefing.
New Zealand has reported less than 1,500 confirmed or probable cases of coronavirus and 19 deaths.
New Zealand chief health officer Ashley Bloomfield said the low number of new cases in recent days “gives us confidence that we have achieved our goal of elimination.”
He warned that “deletion” did not mean that there would be no new cases, “but it does mean that we know where our cases come from.”
Ms Ardern said “there was no widespread undetected community transmission in New Zealand,” adding, “We have won that battle.”
But she said the country “must remain vigilant if we want to keep it that way.”
New Zealand imposed very strict restrictions on travel and activity at the beginning of the pandemic, when it only had a few dozen cases.
It closed its borders, began to impose the quarantine of all arrivals in the country, imposed a strict blockade and mounted an extensive operation of testing and tracking contacts.
Ms. Ardern said the models indicated that New Zealand could have had more than 1,000 cases a day if it had not brought the closure so early.
She said the country could never know how bad it would have been, but that “through our accumulated actions we have avoided the worst.”
At midnight local time (12:00 GMT Monday), New Zealand will move from the Level Four to Level Three blockade. That means that most businesses will be able to reopen, including takeout restaurants, but not those that involve face-to-face contact.
New Zealanders are told to stick to their “bubble,” a small group of close friends or family, and to stay 2 meters (6 feet) from people.
Mass gatherings are still prohibited, shopping malls remain closed, and most children will remain outside of school. The New Zealand border will remain closed.