New Zealand continues to be one of the few success stories during the covid-19 pandemic. On Wednesday, health officials announced that the country’s sole remaining patient hospitalized with covid-19 was discharged. The good news is more validation of the country’s aggressive strategy to try eliminating the disease within their borders, rather than simply contain it.
According to New Zealand’s Ministry of Health, the patient was discharged Wednesday from a local hospital in Auckland. The country now only has 21 active cases of covid-19, while there have been no new reported cases for five days straight. During the entire pandemic, the country has reported around 1,500 cases, along with 21 deaths.
While New Zealand may have had natural advantages in beating back the coronavirus — namely being a small island nation with less than 5 million inhabitants — the country’s track record so far has been impressive even when compared to similarly-sized countries (Denmark, with 5 million residents, has reported more than 11,000 cases and 500 deaths, for instance).
It’s likely that New Zealand’s success can largely be tied to decisions early on in the pandemic. In late March, when the country had less than 1,000 confirmed covid-19 cases, leaders announced that it would pursue one of the strictest lockdowns implemented in the world in an express effort to stop all local transmission of the virus. Residents were told to avoid leaving their house unless absolutely necessary. Travel was severely restricted and most businesses were shut down as well. At the same time, the country ramped up its testing and surveillance of covid-19, with the aim of trying to isolate and contain any outbreaks of illness.
Many other countries, including the U.S., have opted for a mitigation strategy, which tries to flatten the curve of daily new cases. In the U.S. however, the lack of testing early on, inconsistently deployed lockdowns, and other baffling decisions by local governments enabled outbreaks to spread further, leading to the country now having the world’s largest reported outbreak and death toll. And while many countries are starting to lift lockdowns, New Zealand’s lack of cases have allowed it to open up with fewer restrictions.
As Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said, though, the pandemic is far from over. New cases have still occasionally trickled into the country from elsewhere, which may become more common as the country begins preparing to lift its travel restrictions. That means New Zealand will have to continue monitoring travellers entering the country and its communities in general for the foreseeable future (currently, most travellers must be isolated for at least 14 days). The economic effects of the pandemic will also take time to recover from. But more than most, New Zealand is in good shape to weather the pandemic from here on out.
“There is no widespread, undetected community transmission in New Zealand. We have won that battle,” said Ardern in late April. “But we must remain vigilant if we are to keep it that way.”