New Zealand Declares Coronavirus 'Eliminated,' Lifts Most Restrictions

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Sunday that the country has officially eradicated the coronavirus within its borders and will have things return almost completely to normal after the final known infected person recovered from COVID-19. While isolation and quarantine standards remain in place for people arriving from abroad, the country of about 5 million people will now allow large public gatherings, such as concerts and sporting events, to return for the first time since March 23.

Being praised as one of the first countries to respond to the coronavirus pandemic in a meaningful way, Ardern announced a nationwide lockdown in March, imposing a two-week quarantine on anyone arriving from outside the country and a month-long stay-at-home order for all New Zealanders. By late May, New Zealand had one case of COVID-19, bringing the country to a total of just over 1,500 infections total and only 22 deaths due to the virus.

Sunday, Ardern announced, "Today, I can announce that [the] Cabinet has agreed, that we will now move to Level 1 to get our economy back to normal again. And we will start almost immediately." The prime minister added that when she first heard there were no more active coronavirus cases, she "did a little dance" for her 23-month-old daughter Neve.

"She was caught a little by surprise but she joined in, having absolutely no idea why I was dancing around the lounge but enjoying it nonetheless," Ardern added. She emphasized that the country will remain vigilant when it comes to the coronavirus, and that New Zealand is "not immune" to the countries that have been much harder hit across the world. The United States, for comparison, has had nearly 2 million cases of coronavirus and more than 118,000 deaths.

Ardern said of New Zealand moving forward that at Level 1, there was an expected "continuation of recovery," but added "We will almost certainly see cases here again. That is not a sign we have failed." She advised her citizens to continue to stay home if they feel sick and follow coronavirus guidelines to self-isolate if symptoms progress.