New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has stated New Zealand Corona Free “for now.” Ardern also announced that the country is leaving Alert level 1 as of midnight on June 8, which will allow all restrictions regarding social distance and the development of economic activities to be lifted.
“We can safely say that, for the moment, we have eliminated the transmission of the virus in New Zealand. But this elimination is not something that is achieved once and for all, it is a sustained effort. ”
Two of the leading epidemiologists who devised New Zealand’s virus elimination strategy explain the details of the news and the challenges the country faces in the future.
New Zealand Corona Free Country
Today is the first day since February 28 that New Zealand has no active COVID-19 cases.
According to our models, it is very likely at the moment (actually, the probability is greater than 95%) that New Zealand has completely eliminated the virus. These data coincide with the models of our colleagues from the Te Pūnaha Matatini research center.
Today is also the seventeenth day without new cases being registered. New Zealand has had a total of 1,154 confirmed cases (which would add up to 1,504 if we add the probable cases) and 22 deaths.
We are talking about an important milestone, a moment to be celebrated. However, as we continue to rebuild the economy, New Zealand has numerous challenges ahead that it must overcome if it wants to continue to maintain its status as a COVID-19 free country at a time when the pandemic is still present in the rest of the world.
It remains important that the government builds on sound scientific data in managing the pandemic and assessing the risks. Below we give various self-protection recommendations … but we also argue that New Zealand must urgently reform its healthcare system. This should include the creation of a new national public health agency for disease prevention and control.
What does Elimination Mean?
In a medical context, elimination means the absence of a disease on a national or regional scale. The term eradication is used when the extinction is global (as for example was the case of smallpox).
The elimination requires a highly effective surveillance system to ensure that even if border control fails, any new cases can be detected quickly. We assume that definitions are important. They are, in the first place, to give certainty to citizens. But also to expand transport connections with other countries based on them, which have also managed to eliminate the virus.
New Zealand Corona Free Country!
It is important to remember that active cases are not the ones that have to worry us. By definition, these are cases that have already been identified, are isolated, and are highly unlikely to spread to others. The main goal of elimination is undetected cases that spread the disease silently. For this reason, we need mathematical models that tell us if elimination is possible.
Avoid complacency (and also new outbreaks)
New Zealand’s determined elimination strategy has apparently worked, but it is easy to fall into complacency. And there are many other countries that have implemented a containment strategy and have subsequently had new outbreaks. Some of the most notorious cases have been Singapore, South Korea, or Australia.
New Zealand has spent many months expanding its capabilities to eliminate COVID-19. But maintaining this situation poses various challenges. Ports, airports, and quarantine facilities remain potential transmission sites for cases from abroad, especially given the pressures to increase foreign arrivals.
“New Zealand Corona Free Country” A Great News For Kiwis
New Zealand’s decision to abandon the Level 1 alert will end all restrictions on maintaining a physical distance. But in case of the virus returns, this creates the breeding ground for outbreaks to occur in social gatherings held indoors. In addition, New Zealand is heading towards winter, a time when respiratory viruses are most easily spread, as we have already seen in highly seasonal coronaviruses such as those responsible for the common cold.
Five keys to protecting the long-term health
As happened when New Zealand was preparing to receive the pandemic, the post-elimination period will require “maximum proactivity.”
Here we present five basic approaches to address risk management, which aim to achieve lasting protection for the country not only against COVID-19 but also against other serious threats to public health.
1. Make public use of face masks mandatory in certain situations
Health protection involves establishing multiple barriers to prevent infection or virus contamination. It is essential to protect drinking water reserves, food security, and borders from incursions by external biological agents.
In order to maintain physical distance, we have recommended to the Government that it seriously consider making the use of the mask mandatory on public transport, on airplanes, at border controls, and in quarantine facilities. There are other hygiene measures (staying home if we fall ill, washing our hands, greeting us by hitting our elbows) that are insufficient, however, when transmission occurs through people who are apparently healthy, and therefore can simply spread the virus when speaking or breathing.
Today there is solid scientific evidence on the effectiveness of face masks, including cloth, according to a recent systematic review of academic publications carried out by The Lancet magazine. The World Health Organization has also updated its guidelines, which now recommend that everyone wear face masks in areas at risk of transmission. If we promote the mask-wearing culture in New Zealand at this time, that will make it easier for us to generalize its use in the future, should it become necessary due to an outbreak.
2. Improve the effectiveness of contact tracking with the right digital tools
New Zealand’s national contact tracking system continues to be an essential containment measure to control potential outbreaks should border filters fail. But there is a great margin of growth for the development of new digital tools that improve current procedures (and that nevertheless have to incorporate the necessary guarantees to safeguard privacy). To be effective, these digital tools must have very high data storage capacity and allow very fast contact tracking. The current applications that can be downloaded are insufficient in these aspects, which has meant that both New Zealand and Singapore are investigating devices with Bluetooth technology that have better features and can be distributed to all citizens.
“New Zealand Corona Free Country” Well Done Kiwis
3. Manage borders following a scientific approach
Prudently returning to a higher volume of travel by both foreigners to New Zealand and New Zealanders abroad is important for both economic and humanitarian reasons. However, it is necessary to evaluate the risks with caution, since this opening involves two very different processes. On the one hand, it would be necessary to increase the number of groups of people who will be able to enter the country, and which until now has been practically reduced to residents and their families. The normal thing would be to continue with the 14-day quarantine procedures unless better methods are discovered.
The other possible relaxation of restrictions would involve letting in without quarantining, which could be done safely for nationals of countries where the virus had also been eliminated. This process could begin with the Pacific island countries that have not suffered the scourge of COVID-19, particularly Samoa and Tonga. It would be possible to extend this agreement to some states in Australia, as well as to other territories such as Taiwan or the Fiji Islands when all of them confirm that they are in a situation of elimination of the virus.
4. Create a national public health agency that is effective
Even before COVID-19 hit New Zealand, it was clear that our public health system was running out of the water after decades of neglect, fragmentation, and neglect. Some of the most prominent examples of system failures include the 2016 campylobacter outbreak in the Havelock North suburb, or the ongoing measles outbreaks that occurred throughout 2019. A comprehensive report was sent to the Ministry of Health in March. on the state of the health system and disability coverage, and it recommended a significant expansion of public health resources. That report and its recommendations should now be released.
We also recommend conducting a provisional assessment of the public system response to COVID-19 now, and not after the pandemic passes. These evaluations would give us information on those elements related to the response capacity of New Zealand public health that must be improved to articulate a better response to the current pandemic, and also prepare the country for other serious health threats. In this sense, the creation of an effective public health agency to lead the control and prevention of diseases would be a key improvement. This agency could help avoid confinements through early detection and response actions to emerging infectious disease threats, as Taiwan has done during this pandemic.
5. Commit to deep transformation to avoid major global threats
COVID-19 is having devastating social and health effects worldwide. And although it could be controlled thanks to a vaccine or antiviral treatments, there will continue to be other major health threats, such as climate change, the loss of biological diversity, or threats to our existence, such as the possibility that advances in synthetic biology may lead to other pandemics. All of these threats urgently require attention. The end of confinement offers the possibility of making a sustainable transformation of our economy; a transformation that is compatible with broader health, social, and environmental objectives.
“New Zealand Corona Free Country” Kiwis Celebrating the Event