Crowds will gather again in New Zealandâ€™s restaurants. Weddings will include as many hugs and guests as the happy couple wants â€” and even social distancing will not be needed.
New Zealand has no active coronavirus cases and no new cases, officials said on Monday, declaring that life could return to a form of pre-pandemic normal. Since the pandemic began, the country has reported 1,504 cases and 22 deaths nationally, and has been widely praised for its stringent approach to combating the virus.
â€œWhile the job is not done, there is no denying this is a milestone,â€ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, adding: â€œThank you, New Zealand.â€
The country of five million people is one of only a few nations that appear to have eradicated the virus, at least for now. Iceland is another.
Ms. Ardern, who led an approach she described as â€œgo hard go earlyâ€ â€” with a severe lockdown that began in late March â€” said the country could now focus on economic recovery and bolstering local businesses. She also noted that she â€œdid a little danceâ€ when she heard the news that the virus had been eliminated in the country.
â€œRetail is back without limitation,â€ she said. â€œHospitality is back without limitation; public transport and travel across the country is fully open.â€
The country had already begun to ease some initial measures first put in place on March 25 when it shut most businesses, closed schools and required residents to stay at home. At the time, the country outlined a four-stage plan to move toward some semblance of normalcy.
Those restrictions were walked back over the past five weeks, moving to Level 3 in April, and then Level 2 in mid-May. The move to Level 1 had been planned for June 22, but was brought forward when no new cases were reported. The restrictions lifted at midnight Monday.
The return to freedom of movement, however, is not quite complete. With the pandemic continuing to rage elsewhere, the countryâ€™s borders are still closed. Plans for a â€œtravel bubbleâ€ with Australia are in the works, but moving slowly.
Ms. Ardern also announced that QR codes would be appearing wherever people gather. She asked businesses to remind people to scan the codes into the governmentâ€™s contact tracing app to make any future outbreak easier to track and isolate.
â€œThis is a key new habit weâ€™re asking all New Zealanders to adopt,â€ she said.
Ms. Ardern has been praised internationally for her approach to New Zealandâ€™s outbreak, which was among the most stringent in the world.
â€œThe virus will be in our world for some time to come,â€ she said on Monday. â€œWe are confident we have eliminated transmission of the virus for now, but elimination is not a point in time; it is a sustained effort.â€
Ms. Ardern noted that the last known patient treated at hospital with Covid-19 was released 12 days ago.
â€œThis is really good news for the person concerned, and itâ€™s also something the rest of New Zealand can take heart from,â€ Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, the director general of health, said in a statement.
While Dr. Bloomfield called the moment a â€œsignificant mark in our journey,â€ he warned that the â€œongoing vigilanceâ€ against the virus would be essential going forward.
Megan Specia contributed reporting.