Has New Zealand Eliminated COVID-19?

This came from a world report in The Lancet dated May 9, 2020. 

An aggressive approach has enabled New Zealand to end community transmission of SARS-CoV-2. 

New Zealand recorded its first day of no new cases of Coronavirus earlier last week, more than a month after its strict lockdown began. 

As of May 9, New Zealand had recorded fewer than 1500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and only 20 deaths. 

New Zealand have committed to an elimination strategy.  It would appear that the swift action of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern resulted in this extraordinary feat.  She announced a strict national lockdown when it only had 102 cases and zero deaths.  The full lockdown allowed the country to get key systems up and running to effectively manage borders, and to do contact tracing, testing and surveillance. 

Since January 22, more than 150,000 people have been tested in a country of just
5 million. Testing has been focused on people with symptoms, with tracing of both close contacts and casual contacts.  The Ministry of Health is in discussion with districts to arrange testing of specific communities who are at a higher risk of acquiring the virus such as those in aged residential care and healthcare workers. Testing samples from sewerage is also being considered to monitor control and elimination. 

The key success of the country in elimination has been the way in which COVID-19 was explained to the general population.  In other countries, people have been talking about war and battle which puts people into a fearful and negative frame of mind.  The official response in New Zealand has been guided by the principle that you do not stigmatise and that we all unite against COVID-19.  Public trust has been built up by Ardern, The Prime Minister regularly appearing on social media, smiling and sharing parts of her personal life under lockdown but without underplaying the seriousness of the situation.  This has helped to build public trust.

In elimination the overarching principle means that it has gone.  However, in epidemiological terms, it means bringing cases down to zero or near zero in a geographical location.  New Zealand feels that they will see cases but only cases in people who have arrived from overseas and as a result travellers from abroad will be quarantined as part of the effort to prevent transmission in New Zealand.

Australia, which has had a similar success to New Zealand, is not publicly floating the idea of elimination but has been in discussion with New Zealand about reopening travel between the two countries.

In time, a small number of countries in the region will reach an agreement to enable travel with specific control measures in place. 

Officials, however, are still pleading for vigilance as breaches of the shutdown rules continue to rise.  When the country loosened some of its restrictions last week fast-food outlets ran out of food as people flocked to have burgers and fries.

The London General Practice

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