New Zealand reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Monday – indicating that the country’s bold strategy for trying to eliminate the coronavirus is working.
The country has recorded almost 1,500 cases and 20 deaths since COVID-19 arrived.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been widely praised for her empathetic leadership style, with the public encouraged to “be kind” and “stay calm” as strict quarantine and lockdown measures were put in place.
Here, we take a look at how the Pacific island nation managed to slow the spread of coronavirus.
What has been New Zealand’s strategy?
The government’s approach to the outbreak was reportedly influenced by a scientific paper from Imperial College London.
The paper found stringent measures of “epidemic suppression” were needed to tackle the virus – including social distancing, isolating cases at home, and quarantining family members.
In mid-March, Ms Ardern said everyone coming into New Zealand would have to self-isolate for two weeks.
It was among the earliest and toughest self-isolation measures in the world, and came when just six cases were reported nationwide.
New Zealand, which has a population of almost five million people, went on to close its borders from Thursday 19 March.
A complete lockdown was imposed six days later.
The “level four” restrictions meant only grocery shops, pharmacies, hospitals and petrol stations remained open.
Vehicle travel was restricted, and social interaction was limited to within households.
New Zealand also enforced an extensive testing and contact tracing operation.
How did the public respond to the measures?
New Zealanders are said to have taken the lockdown seriously from the first day, with empty streets and highways seen across the country.
Sue Webster, an Airbnb owner in New Zealand, told National Geographic: “I think it’s easier for us Kiwis to fall in line because we trust our leaders.”
When was it clear the measures were working?
In late April, Ms Ardern said the virus was “currently” eliminated as community transmission of COVID-19 had been stopped.
However, she later warned that “elimination doesn’t mean zero cases”.
New Zealand reported it had no new cases of the virus on Monday.
How has New Zealand’s prime minister handled the crisis?
Ms Ardern has been praised for her decisiveness – telling New Zealanders “we go hard, we go early” in the days before the lockdown.
Helen Clark, New Zealand’s prime minister from 1999 to 2008, told The Atlantic that Ms Ardern “doesn’t preach at them, she’s standing with them” in relation to how she communicates with the public.
She said: “They may even think, well, I don’t quite understand why (the government) did that, but I know she’s got our back.
“There’s a high level of trust and confidence in her because of her empathy.”
Ms Clark described Ms Ardern as a “communicator”, adding: “This is the kind of crisis which will make or break leaders.
“And this will make Jacinda.”
Ms Ardern went on Facebook Live shortly after the lockdown saying she wanted to “check in with everyone”.
The government’s message has also spread to road signs, with some reading: “Be kind, stay calm.”
Ms Ardern’s intention was clear as she said at one of her daily briefings: “We have the opportunity to do something no other country has achieved: elimination of the virus.”
She also achieved an almost record-breaking approval rating while the country was in lockdown, the New Zealand Herald reports.
A poll showed that the prime minister’s Labour Party had reached 55% approval.
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What is life like in New Zealand now?
The lockdown rules were eased a little last week to help reopen the economy, but many restrictions remain in place.
Many businesses – including most retail stores and sit-down restaurants – remain closed, most children are learning from home, and people are required to maintain social distancing.
Consideration is also being given to a trans-Tasman “bubble” which would allow movement of people between New Zealand and Australia.
Australia has had about 6,800 infections and 95 deaths.
Ms Ardern said a decision would be made next Monday on whether to ease the rules further.
She said: “We cannot afford to squander the good work to date when our end goal is so close and within reach.”
New Zealand cannot afford to be complacent despite recording no new cases of COVID-19.
Countries such as Singapore are said to have struggled with a second wave of infections despite appearing to have the virus under control.
There is also the threat of the virus arriving from overseas, meaning restrictions on arrivals are likely to be in place for some time.