New Zealand has marked 100 days without a domestic transmission of the coronavirus, but leaders have warned against complacency as countries like Vietnam and Australia – which once had the virus under control – now battle a resurgence in infections.
New Zealand’s successful fight against Covid-19 has made the Pacific island nation of 5m people one of the safest places in the world right now.
Citizens have returned to normal life, but authorities are concerned that people have begun to refuse testing, are avoiding the government contact tracing apps, and even ignoring basic hygiene rules.
“Achieving 100 days without community transmission is a significant milestone, however, as we all know, we can’t afford to be complacent,” director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said.
“We have seen overseas how quickly the virus can re-emerge and spread in places where it was previously under control, and we need to be prepared to quickly stamp out any future cases in New Zealand,” he said.
New Zealand currently has 23 active cases in managed isolation facilities, and 1,219 Covid-19 cases in all so far. Health authorities have recorded a total of 22 deaths related to the virus.
The nation has attributed its success to stringent border control measures, a strict lockdown and a widespread programme testing of contact tracing.
But other nations such as Vietnam – which went three months without detecting any domestic transmission – is now racing to control a new outbreak in Danang, fuelling fears in New Zealand that further loosening of measures could spark a similar resurgence.
Neighbouring Australia’s second-biggest city, Melbourne, has gone into a six week lockdown due to a surge in cases. The second wave of cases in Melbourne has been largely a result of lapses in quarantining.
“For countries like Australia and New Zealand the source of such outbreaks is likely to be from managed isolation and quarantine facilities because of the large numbers of people held there and the multiple shifts of staff involved in looking after them,” said Michael Baker, professor of public health at the University of Otago.
There have been cases of returning New Zealanders sneaking out of quarantine, and other security slip ups.
New Zealand last week ramped up testing at quarantine facilities and clinics, and started work on technology to track people using Bluetooth technology.
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern kicked off her re-election campaign on Saturday calling it a ‘Covid election’.
But a potentia; resurgence of cases due to “Covid fatigue” could spark a backlash against her, and give the opposition a chance to work their way back into the election contest.