After Containing COVID-19, Can New Zealand and Australia Show How to Reopen?

After Containing COVID-19, Can New Zealand and Australia Show How to Reopen?
Surfers prepare to enter the water at Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia, April 28, 2020 (AP photo by Rick Rycroft).

New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, declared victory against her country’s coronavirus outbreak last week. “There is no widespread undetected community transmission in New Zealand,” she announced, as COVID-19 had “currently” been eliminated from the country. New Zealand’s director-general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, echoed the prime minister, saying that the continued downward trend in new infections “does give us confidence that we have achieved our goal of elimination.” The country of 5 million people has confirmed around 1,200 cases of COVID-19 and 20 deaths so for, and recorded no new infections earlier this week.

New Zealand ranks among the world’s most successful countries in containing the coronavirus pandemic, along with Australia, where the daily number of new cases has plummeted from 460 in late March to only 16 last Friday, bringing the total to just over 6,800. The Australian government has not claimed to have entirely eliminated domestic transmissions of COVID-19, but some states in the country, like South Australia, have reported no new cases in the past week.

Now, Australia and New Zealand are beginning to relax the restrictions on movement and economic activity that limited the virus’s spread. While their successful responses to the pandemic can offer lessons for other countries still struggling with major COVID-19 outbreaks, how Australia and New Zealand reopen—and whether they can do so without causing a spike in cases or sparking a political backlash—will be instructive as well.

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