Asia-Pacific

New Zealand has 'won the battle' against coronavirus, Jacinda Ardern says

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will ease some coronavirus restrictions from midnight on Monday. Source: Getty Images AsiaPac

After living through one of the world's toughest lockdowns for the past month, New Zealanders will are beginning their transition back to normal life.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday claimed New Zealand had scored a significant victory against the spread of the coronavirus, as the country began a phased exit from lockdown.

"There is no widespread, undetected community transmission in New Zealand," Ms Ardern declared. "We have won that battle."

After nearly five weeks at the maximum Level Four restrictions - with only essential services operating - the country will moved to Level Three late on Monday.

New Zealanders will now be able to go fishing, surfing, hunting and hiking for the first time in more than a month as the country begins to ease its way out of a strict lockdown.

Around 400,000 people will be returning to work after the country shifted its alert level down a notch at midnight on Monday, but shops and restaurants will remain closed as several social restrictions remain in place.

A security guard hands a face mask to a driver using a stick outside a COVID-19 clinic near Wellington.
A security guard hands a face mask to a driver using a stick outside a COVID-19 clinic near Wellington.
Getty Images

But Ms Ardern warned there was no certainty about when all transmission can be eliminated, allowing a return to normal life.

Everyone wants to "bring back the social contact that we all miss", she said, "but to do it confidently we need to move slowly and we need to move cautiously."

"I will not risk the gains we've made in the health of New Zealanders. So if we need to remain at Level Three, we will."

New Zealand's five million residents were subjected to one of the strictest lockdowns in the world in response to the pandemic, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern closing offices, schools, bars and restaurants, including takeaway and delivery services, on 26 March.

Beaches, waterfronts and playgrounds were also shut, effectively restricting people to their homes and short walks around their neighbourhood.

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The easing of restrictions came as New Zealand, a nation of five million people, reported only one new case of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 1,122 with 19 deaths.

Economy reboot

While Ms Ardern has generally received public support, there has been growing criticism that similar results may have been achieved with less stringent lockdown measures, as in Australia.

Ms Ardern now faces the challenge of restarting a trade and tourism-dependent economy from a standing start, while facing national elections in September.

A man rides past the usually crowded Cathedral Square during the COVID-19 alert level 4 lockdown in Christchurch, New Zealand.
A man rides past the usually crowded Cathedral Square during the COVID-19 alert level 4 lockdown in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Getty Images

Treasury has forecast gross domestic product to fall by as much as one-third and the jobless rate to hit 13 per cent. 

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

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