The Pacific island nation has returned to pre-pandemic life, with people attending sports stadiums and eating out in restaurants, but warned its five million residents against lowering their guard as it observes how neighbouring countries such as Australia and Vietnam are suffering surges once more.
“Achieving 100 days without community transmission is a significant milestone, however, as we all know, we can’t afford to be complacent,” Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the Director-General of Health said.
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“We have seen overseas how quickly the virus can re-emerge and spread in places where it was previously under control, and we need to be prepared to quickly stamp out any future cases in New Zealand.”
The country stamped out the virus by locking down early and thoroughly in March, when only about 100 people had tested positive. In the last three months, the only cases have been in residents who have returned from abroad, who have then been quarantined upon re-entry.
As the country marks the impressive milestone, authorities are concerned that people have begun to take a lax approach to prevention, refusing testing and contact tracing and with many no longer following basic, but crucial, hygiene rules.
The milestone comes as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, launched her re-election campaign on Saturday, announcing that it would be a “Covid election”.
Although the country’s successful fight against the virus has made it one of the safest places in the world right now, a resurgence of infections due to recent laxity could be used as ammunition against the incumbent.
So-called “Covid fatigue” is particularly concerning in light of the predicaments of Vietnam and Australia, both of which once looked like they had domestic outbreaks under control.
“For countries like Australia and New Zealand the source of such outbreaks is likely to be from managed isolation and quarantine facilities, because of the large numbers of people held there and the multiple shifts of staff involved in looking after them,” said Michael Baker, Professor of Public Health at the University of Otago.
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Vietnam is now struggling to control a fresh outbreak in the coastal city of Da Nang, after managing three months without a domestic transmission.
Meanwhile, Melbourne is under a six-week lockdown after lapses in quarantine led to a second wave in Australia’s second-biggest city.
New Zealand has 23 active coronavirus cases in quarantine facilities, and there have been instances of security mistakes, including cases of residents evading quarantine after returning from abroad.
In its continuing fight against the virus, the country increased testing at managed isolation facilities and clinics last week and has begun developing Bluetooth technology to track cases.
New Zealand has had a total of 1,569 cases and 22 deaths.