Ten days into a full lockdown, the country has widespread testing yet just under 1,000 cases, and only one person has died

By Julie Mazziotta
April 08, 2020 03:10 PM
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A lone walker on Oriental Bay beach on April 6, 2020, in Wellington, New Zealand.
| Credit: Mark Tantrum/Getty Images

On March 23, New Zealand had just over 100 cases of the new coronavirus, COVID-19. But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern decided that it was time to take action, and put the entire country into one of the most restrictive lockdowns — everyone, except for essential workers, has 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.

“We currently have 102 cases,” she said that day, according to The Washington Post. “But so did Italy once.”

Now, just over 10 days later, it looks as though the lockdown is working. New Zealand has conducted widespread testing, and has 1,210 confirmed cases among its 4.7 million residents. Only one person has died from COVID-19-related illness.

And each day, the number of new cases is going down. The highest one-day increase in cases occurred on April 2, and by Monday, four days later, the number of new cases was down to 67. It went down again on Tuesday, to 54, and to 50 on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
| Credit: Hagen Hopkins/Getty

Plus, the majority of cases have been in people coming back from international travel, the Post reported, and the country has not seen community spread of the virus the way that the U.S. has. New Zealand certainly benefited from the country’s small population, and was able to do contact tracing on anyone with COVID-19 and get them tested.

And no one was exempt from the lockdown — Health Minister David Clark was demoted after he drove his family to the beach, according to Reuters. Clark had offered to resign, and Ardern said that “under normal circumstances” he would have been fired, but she opted to demote him at this time.

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Experts called New Zealand’s strategy against COVID-19 total “elimination,” and say that it 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 Post.

Ardern said in a briefing on Wednesday that she’s “cautiously optimistic that we are starting to turn a corner,” but she is sticking with the four-week lockdown plan. Ardern did, however, reassure kids at another briefing that a few favorite people will continue to work.

“You’ll be pleased to know that we do consider both the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny to be essential workers,” she said.

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. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.