Over the past several days, new cases of coronavirus in the country have been "in the single digits," Ardern said in a press conference Monday. She called the numbers "incredible," crediting the low amount of cases to the "sacrifices that every single New Zealander has made."
Ardern explained that to fully "succeed" in the fight against the coronavirus, the country must "hunt down" the remaining cases of the virus — but that it has won the battle against more widespread community transmission. "There is no widespread, undetected community transmission in New Zealand. We have won that battle," said Ardern. "But we must remain vigilant if we are to keep it that way."
New Zealand reported just one new confirmed case of coronavirus Monday, with four "probable" cases. The national total of confirmed cases is 1,122, Director-General of Health Dr. Ashley Bloomfield said at the press conference. Nineteen people have died from the disease in New Zealand, according to the Ministry of Health.
Later in the press conference, Bloomfield was asked if he considered the coronavirus to be eliminated in the country.
"Our goal is elimination," Bloomfield said. "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 outbreaks that might come up."
Ardern further explained the disease is "currently" eliminated in New Zealand, but that new cases may continue to appear: "So as we have said elimination means we may well reach zero, but we may well then have small numbers of cases coming up again," she said. "That doesn't mean we have failed, it just means that we are in the position to have that zero tolerance approach to have a very aggressive management of those cases and keep those numbers low and fading out again."
New Zealand lowered to Alert Level Three on Monday at 11:59 p.m. It had previously declared a state of emergency and gone on lockdown March 25. Ardern fully stressed that despite the updated alert level, the country cannot yet return to "pre-COVID-19 life. That day will come but it is not here yet."
Under level three, people are still told to work from home "unless that is not possible," with the exception of essential workers, according to a government handout. The public is permitted to expand their interactions slightly from just their "household bubble," to include close family, caregivers or provide support to isolated individuals in their local area.
Retail, stores and restaurants may open if they do so safely, but they must do business solely through means of delivery, drive-through or contactless pick up, according to the handout. Supermarkets, pharmacies and food banks continue remain open.
The country will remain at Alert Level Three for two weeks, before the government reviews progress and issues further guidance.