New Zealand Easing Restrictions Following Two Week Halt in New COVID-19 Cases

Only one active case in the country . . .

New Zealand has reported no new cases of COVID-19 for 14 days, and there remains only one active case in the country. In total, it has reported 1,504 confirmed and probable cases, or about one case for every 3,300 people in New Zealand. By contrast, Canada’s infection rate is about one case for every 400 people. The New Zealand Cabinet will decide this coming Monday whether the country will further ease restrictions from alert level 2 to alert level 1.

From alert level 2 to level 1?

Alert level 1 would see a significant loosening of economic and social restrictions. At alert level 2 physical distancing requirements remain in place, although social gatherings of up to 100 people are allowed; schools, early learning centres, and universities are open; restaurants, bars, cafés and other stores are permitted to open if they can do so safely; and, domestic travel is allowed. Alert level 1 would see no restrictions on social gatherings, although strict border controls would remain in place while intensive testing and contract tracing for any new positive cases would continue. Closed borders would act as a barrier to full-throttle economic growth; however, as international visitor spending is estimated to directly account for 5 per cent of the country’s economy.

A potential model for gradual re-opening . . .

New Zealand’s experience could prove instructive for Canadian leaders as they enact gradual economic and social re-openings in different parts of the country. New Zealand’s alert levels are careful, gradual, and well-planned, and transitions from one level to the next are appropriate in balancing the risk of community transmission. But perhaps most importantly, New Zealand’s alert system, the restrictions at each level, and the requirements for transitioning are well-communicated. Effectively communicating the risk of virus transmission, specific restrictions, and the requirements for easing restrictions may just be the most important lesson from New Zealand’s COVID-19 response thus far.