New Zealand Claims 'Elimination' of COVID-19 with Few New Cases: 'We Have Done It Together'
"We have won that battle, [but we] must remain vigilant if we are to keep it that way," said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
On Monday, the island nation announced in a press conference that it would lessen precautionary restrictions from "level four" to "level three," due to the reduction of cases, claiming it has "eliminated" the virus in its country. Officials clarified that the lessened restrictions doesn't mean the virus has been fully eradicated, however, the number of new cases is significantly lower, allowing them to better monitor and squash potential outbreaks.
According to CNN, New Zealand reported one new confirmed case of COVID-19, four "probable cases" and one additional death from the weekend. As of Monday, New Zealand has a reported total of 1,469 confirmed cases and 19 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins. The country has also benefited from its small population of just under 5 million and island location.
Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand's director general of health, said the single-digit tallies "does give us confidence that we've achieved our goal of elimination, which -- that never meant zero but it does mean we know where our cases are coming from."
He continued: "Our goal is elimination. And again, that doesn't mean eradication but it means we get down to a small number of cases so that we are able to stamp out any cases and any outbreak that might come out."
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern specified, according to BBC News, that New Zealand would be "opening up the economy, but we're not opening up people's social lives."
"We have won that battle," Ardern said. "... [but we] must remain vigilant if we are to keep it that way."
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories
Ardern called the low reports of new cases "incredible," adding that places like schools and some accepted recreation will be allowed starting May 11, but things like gyms and libraries will stay prohibited, according to CNN.
"It's been nearly five weeks living and working in ways that just two months ago would have been impossible," said Ardern. "But we did. And we have done it together."
RELATED VIDEO: Retired Farmer with Ailing Wife Sends Extra Face Mask to New York
On March 23, New Zealand had just over 100 cases of COVID-19, but Ardern decided it was time to take action, and put the entire country into one of the most restrictive lockdowns — everyone, except for essential workers, had to stay home for four weeks, only leaving for groceries or solo exercising (though swimming at the beach is prohibited). The country was also shut off to any international travel.
Experts say New Zealand’s strategy against COVID-19 may have worked better than other countries who tried to instead slow the spread and “flatten the curve.”
“Other countries have had a gradual ramp-up, but our approach is exactly the opposite,” Michael Baker, a professor of public health at the University of Otago in New Zealand, told The Washington Post earlier this month.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.