NZ has marked 100 days of no community transmission of coronavirus in the country, and four consecutive days of no new cases in managed isolation.
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said every person in the team of five million had a role to play in reaching 100 days without community transmission.
“Achieving 100 days without community transmission is a significant milestone, however, as we all know, we can't afford to be complacent.
“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.”
New Zealand does have 23 active cases and all are in managed isolation and quarantine facilities, with none of them requiring hospital-level care.
On Saturday, laboratories processed 4,249 tests, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 494,481. There were 542 swabs taken in managed isolation and quarantine facilities yesterday.
This 100 day milestone puts New Zealand among just a handful of countries – many much smaller and more remote than New Zealand – to achieve such a feat.
The last case of community transmission, or transfer of the virus from an unknown source, was detected on May 1.
s the virus rages on outside New Zealand’s borders, the warning is clear: community transmission could rear its ugly head again at any time, and people need to be prepared.
Since New Zealand's first Covid-19 case in February, 1219 people have been confirmed as having contracted the virus.
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Of those, just 6 per cent of cases were community transmission (locally acquired cases from an unknown source).
From the first known case imported into New Zealand in February to the last case of community transmission, elimination took 65 days.
HOW DO WE COMPARE?
When New Zealand closed its borders on March 19, there were 240,000 Covid-19 cases worldwide.
This has since risen 80-fold, with more than 19 million cases reported to date.
The country's efforts have been praised by the World Health Organisation, which held up New Zealand as an example to other countries for having “successfully eliminated community transmission”.
New Zealand is one of just a small number of jurisdictions in the world pursuing Covid-19 containment or elimination, including the likes of mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia, Australia and Fiji.
Most of these countries have had new outbreaks, with Taiwan and Fiji the exceptions.
Small nations such as Timor-Leste (East Timor) and the tiny jurisdiction of the Holy See (Vatican City) have also been able to keep the virus at bay. Timor-Leste has not reported any new cases since April 24, with no active cases since May 15.
In July, Vietnam's 99-day streak of no community transmission was broken when a 57-year-old man in Da Nang tested positive for the virus.
“Patient 416” got sick via community transmission months after the last case was sick – despite Communist authorities locking down the country after the virus emerged in China, and introducing a rigorous state quarantine and contact-tracing system.
Meanwhile, Taiwan recorded more than 100 days without a single case of community transmission more than a fortnight ago, as reported in local media.
The nation has been heralded for its effective response to the pandemic, which has seen 477 cases and 7 deaths in a population of 23.7 million.
Only 55 of these were community transmission, according to the Taiwan Centres for Disease Control.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF NEW CASES CROP UP IN THE COMMUNITY?
In July, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern set out a Covid-19 re-emergence plan should community transmission return.
At the time, Ardern pointed to Victoria – which saw Melbourne enter into a six-week New Zealand-style lockdown last week following an outbreak linked to cases from a managed isolation facility – as a “cautionary tale”.
New South Wales, Hong Kong, Singapore and Korea each had the virus under control only to see it re-emerge, she said.
The priority would be to control any cases with the least intrusive measures over the smallest area possible, so officials would look to apply the Alert Level system at a localised or regional level in the first instance, with the rest of the country remaining at Alert Level 1, she advised.
Local measures to contain the case would include rapid contact tracing and isolating cases and their contacts, and scaled up, targeted testing of people connected to them, such as workmates, those they live with and those in their neighbourhood.
The idea would be to “act hard and fast”, but local, in an attempt to “ring-fence” the virus, Ardern said.
The plan accounted for a number of different scenarios, including a single or number of cases in a community, a larger number of cases or cluster in a region, and multiple clusters that had spread nationally.
“In practical terms, that means doing absolutely everything possible to avoid the entire country returning to alert levels 3 or 4 as a measure of last resort,” she said.
The plan was designed to give the public and business community as much certainty as possible around what to expect if new cases inside the borders were found.
“And that is something we all must prepare for,” she said.
‘WE HAVE WORKED TOO HARD’
This week, the Ministry of Health stressed the importance of “good baseline testing” among people working at the border and in the community “so we can remain confident we have no community transmission in New Zealand”.
A statement issued on Tuesday said while officials were intercepting and isolating cases of Covid-19 at the border, higher testing rates were needed across the board.
“A single case outside of managed isolation could rapidly infect many other people and turn into a widespread outbreak as we have seen occur overseas,” it warned.
Many places that had Covid-19 under control had quickly found themselves in the middle of a resurgence, it said.
“We have worked too hard to be where we are to let that happen.”
The call came after research conducted by the All of Government team found many people with Covid-19 symptoms were not getting tested.
A survey of 800 Kiwis, conducted in July, found just under half of those with symptoms decided not to get tested – with three quarters saying they didn’t think they had Covid-19.
“Ideally every person who has Covid-19 related symptoms will get a test.”
WHERE TO NEXT?
A Ministry of Health spokesperson told Stuff that New Zealand’s response to Covid-19 worked on the basis that people should be prepared for a case of community transmission, and that this could happen at any time.
“Every New Zealander needs to be prepared for the virus to re-emerge.”
The Ministry said it was prepared for this eventuality by, among other things, scaling up testing capacity and contact tracing.
This week, the Government updated its advice to the public on the use of masks – urging Kiwis to include them in their household emergency kits.
On Thursday, Health Minister Chris Hipkins said the World Health Organisation suggested people should be prepared for the use of masks “before the need to use them arises”.
“The Ministry is now recommending that as part of collective preparations for any future outbreak of Covid-19, households add sufficient masks for everybody normally resident in their household to their emergency supply kits,” he said.
Similarly, the Ministry encouraged New Zealanders to get into the habit of using the Covid tracer app and nothing where they have been.
If there is no QR code – such as when visiting friends or family – people were now able to enter details manually into the app.