(CNN) — New Zealand has achieved an enviable milestone – more than 100 days since its last coronavirus case was acquired locally from an unknown source.
As of Monday, the country had reported 1,219 confirmed cases, including just 21 active infections, all in managed isolation facilities. No community transmission cases had emerged in 100 days, authorities announced Sunday, and all the new infections were coming from abroad.
In all, the island nation of 5 million people has reported 22 deaths from coronavirus.
While other countries, including its Pacific neighbors Australia, and the United States, continue to fight the outbreaks, New Zealand has been presented as an example of how to combat COVID-19. A key reason is that although the country appears to have the coronavirus under control, authorities still test thousands of people a day.
“We have seen abroad how quickly the virus can resurface and spread in places where it was previously under control,” Health Director-General Dr. Ashley Bloomfield said Sunday.
“We need to be prepared to quickly take down any future cases in New Zealand. Don’t let the team down, none of us can afford to do that.
What New Zealand did
New Zealand’s strategy was simple: In the words of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the country had to “push hard and do it soon.”
When Ardern closed the border to foreigners on March 19, the country only had 28 confirmed cases. And when he announced a national lockdown on March 23, there were only 102 confirmed cases and no deaths.
New Zealand’s lockdown was relatively strict: There was no takeout or beaches, and you couldn’t drive outside your own neighborhood. The stricter rules were in place for about five weeks, but the country remained under effective lockdown for another two weeks.
All of that was part of the country’s broader strategy: elimination.
‘Elimination does not mean permanently eradicating the virus from New Zealandi; rather, it is about trusting that we have eliminated chains of transmission in our community for at least 28 days and can effectively contain any future cases imported from abroad, ”according to the website of the Ministry of Health.
New Zealand waited until its curve fell before lifting the restrictions. On June 8, when Ardern announced that all restrictions would be lifted, nearly 40,000 tests in the previous 17 days had not returned a single positive result.
Since June, the country has returned almost to normal and there has been no need to return to lockdown.
New Zealand also combined lockdown with strict border restrictions. Only citizens can enter the country and must spend two weeks in a government-approved facility. Returning New Zealanders will now be charged NZ $ 3,100 (US $ 2,040) for the facilities if they return temporarily.
In total, 95 confirmed cases have been identified at the border and 70% of the country’s cases were imported or import-related cases, according to statistics from the Ministry of Health.
What New Zealand did not do
But in New Zealand, face masks have not been a major tool against the outbreak.
There are a few reasons for that. The country does not have a culture of wearing masks and in March, as New Zealand was preparing to go into quarantine, it was difficult to buy them in local stores. By the time people were able to go out in public and travel the country again, there were very few cases of coronavirus in the nation.
In addition to New Zealand’s public health strategies, the country had some natural advantages.
It has no land borders, which gives you more control over who enters the country. And it is not densely populated; According to World Bank data, New Zealand has only 18 people per square kilometer, compared to 36 in the US and 275 in the UK. India, which has the third highest number of cases in the world, has 455 people per square kilometer.
But just because masks have not been part of New Zealand’s strategy in the past doesn’t mean that will be the case in the future. The Ministry of Health recommends that all households prepare for another possible outbreak by stocking up on masks.
“It’s a question of whether it will happen, but when,” Bloomfield told national broadcaster Radio New Zealand last week, when asked if another case of community broadcasting in New Zealand was inevitable. “We are working on the basis that it could happen at any time.”