WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand on Monday recorded no new cases of the coronavirus for the first time since March 16 and less than a week after the Pacific nation ended a strict lockdown that appears to have contained the outbreak.
Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield told a news conference the result was cause for celebration, noting the death toll remained at 20 with no additional virus-related fatalities.
“It is symbolic of the effort everyone has put in,” Bloomfield told reporters.
“This is the first day that we had no new cases and we want to keep it that way.”
Last Tuesday New Zealand ended a strict lockdown which shut offices, schools, malls, restaurants, playgrounds and all other public areas for over a month.
However, several social restrictions remain in place with millions of New Zealanders still working and studying from home, although some economic activity was allowed to resume.
Bloomfield cautioned that people must continue social distancing measures to ensure COVID-19 does not return.
“Clearly these are encouraging figures today, but it is just one moment in time,” Bloomfield said.
“The real test is later this week when we factor in the incubation period for the virus and the time it takes for people to display symptoms which is generally five to six days after exposure.”
The total number of confirmed cases in the country is 1,137, he said.
Foreign Minister Winston Peters on Monday backed calls for a so called trans-Tasman bubble that would allow movement of people between New Zealand and Australia, saying such an arrangement could work “seriously well”.
Australia has so far escaped the high numbers of casualties seen in other countries, with about 6,800 infections and 95 deaths.
The country had 26 new cases of the coronavirus on Monday, including a seven-year-old boy, across three states in the biggest daily jump in two weeks.
A New Zealand rugby team was given the green light to fly to Australia and start training for a tournament while undergoing 14 days of quarantine.
“Officials in both countries are considering all aspects of the trans-Tasman concept, and planning how this could happen more broadly,” Peters said.
Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Kim Coghill & Shri Navaratnam