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  • Melinda Murphy

New Zealand Covid free

There are no known novel coronavirus cases in New Zealand for the first time since COVID-19 arrived in the country on Feb. 28, the government announced Monday afternoon local time.

The big picture: Shaun Hendy, who heads Te Pūnaha Matatini, a scientific body advising the government on COVID-19, said locking down early with some of the world's toughest measures was "crucial" to NZ's success, as other countries struggle with slowing the virus' spread and rising death tolls.

  • "This arrested the virus before it was widespread amongst essential service workers and meant that our contact tracers had fewer people to trace when new cases were found," Hendy told Axios.

  • "We ramped up testing early which led to very effective case isolation."

What's new: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced hours later that New Zealand would move to the lowest restriction level from midnight. She indicated earlier most restrictions would be lifted under alert level 1, but the border would remain closed. Of note: The Ministry of Health said the last case was regarded as recovered after being symptom-free for 48 hours. New Zealand is set to declare the coronavirus eradicated on June 15.

  • This is based on two full cycles of COVID-19 transmission (28 days) passing since the last community transmission case ended self-isolation, per a government statement to Axios.

By the numbers: NZ has confirmed 22 deaths from COVID-19 and 1,154 cases from over 294,800 tests. It has reported no new cases for 17 days.

  • From March 25 when the most restrictive measures (level 4) were imposed to May 29after two weeks on level 2, police reported 7,127 breaches and launched 336 prosecutions.

Background: On March 19, with 28 cases and no deaths, gatherings of over 100 people were banned and borders closed to all foreign travelers.

  • On March 23, non-essential businesses closed, events and gatherings were canceled and schools shut to all but essential workers' children as lockdown level 3 began.

  • That gave Kiwis 48 hours to prepare for level 4, when all schools closed, non-essential food delivery services halted, only essential local travel was permitted, and water activities like swimming were banned.

  • New Zealanders had to stay home at night and in their household "bubbles," socially distancing from all others.

  • People over 70 or with underlying health conditions were urged to stay home.

  • Jogging, walking and visiting local supermarkets and grocery stores became a popular past-time for many for almost five weeks before non-essential businesses and schools reopened at level 3.

For the record: Three barbers and a cafe drew crowds when they resumed service in Auckland at 12:01 a.m., as NZ moved to level 2 on May 14.

  • Barbershop customer Brad Ross enjoyed the warm fall weather and visiting the beach. "Then I lost my grandpa," he said.

  • A travel ban prevented him from making the 90-minute trip to where his grandfather lived.

  • Ross and friend Oliver Steel think Kiwis got on with lockdown without protests like those in the U.S. because of the laid-back culture. "We don't make too much fuss," Steel said.

What to expect: Hendy said it's "inevitable" there'll be more COVID-19 cases when the border eventually reopens or if there's a winter "flare-up." Effective testing, quarantine and contact-tracing will help "spot any outbreak before it gets too large."

  • "The lockdown was very effective but also very hard on many people and businesses, so we should be doing everything we can to avoid another one," Hendy said.

  • "Only as a last resort would we recommend locking down again, but we have the advantage now that we know a short, sharp lockdown is very effective against COVID-19."

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