New Zealand Shuts Down Over 4 COVID-19 Cases While U.S. Passes 5 Million Mark

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took quick action after the country broke its 102-day streak of no new coronavirus cases by community transmission.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern | Getty Images
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern | Getty Images

New Zealand broke its 102-day streak without community transmission of COVID-19 after reporting four new cases in its largest city, Auckland. The prime minister has now reinstated restrictions in the city. 

On Tuesday night, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Dr. Ashley Bloomfield announced four people in a single household in South Auckland contracted COVID-19. Bloomfield said the first positive case was a person in their 50s and that officials are working to figure out how the patient became infected. 

The person’s family members were all tested, and three of their tests came back positive, while three others were negative, Bloomfield said. Others in close contacts of the family have been put in self-isolation, he added.

In response to the four new confirmed cases, Ardern moved Auckland back into Alert Level 3 restrictions starting August 12, during which residents are encouraged to stay home except essential needs such as groceries or medical supplies. Only children of essential workers will be allowed to attend school, all others must stay home. The rest of New Zealand will move to Alert Level 2, which includes social distancing and gatherings of 100 people or less. Schools will remain open.

Bloomfield went on to say that the country’s health system was prepared for another wave of cases and called on New Zealanders to get back to practices that officials encouraged in the early days of the virus.  

“As disruptive as it is, a strong and rapid health response remains the best long-term economic response,” Prime Minister Ardern said during the press conference. “We have had 102 days and it was easy to feel New Zealand was out of the woods. No country has gone as far as we did without having a resurgence. And because we were the only ones, we had to plan.”

The country of nearly 5 million people had mostly eliminated community transmission of the virus by May 1 after its first confirmed case in February. On August 9, the country hit its 100-day streak of no new cases by community transmission. 

An article published in the New England Journal Of Medicine credits the country’s success to the government’s swift response to the pandemic and clearly outlined containment strategy. The country implemented border control policies and a “stringent country-wide lockdown” backed by scientific evidence. 

The journal’s analysis adds that New Zealand’s leaders likely knew the spread would be “imminent” due to the country’s proximity to Asia and frequent tourism from Europe and China.   

America’s Pandemic Response In Comparison

The U.S., unlike New Zealand, has been criticized for its response to the coronavirus pandemic, with leaders falling to implement federal restrictions or consistently encouraging safe practices. 

President Trump wasn’t shown wearing a mask until four months into the pandemic, and the administration withdrew the U.S. from the World Health Organization as cases surged. The European Union barred American travelers from entering its borders, and the reopening of some U.S. schools has already led to COVID-19 outbreaks. 

The U.S. has continuously led the world with the most COVID-19 cases of any country—surpassing 5 million cases this week and leading to at least 163,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins. 

Governors in populous states including Texas and Florida continued to reopen earlier this summer, even as surges in cases hit all-time highs in mid-July. New Zealand, on the other hand, reintroduced restrictions after just four new cases. 

Despite the proximity to the virus’ suspected origin in China, countries including Australia, Vietnam, South Korea, and Taiwan have also been credited with their effective responses to the COVID-19 outbreak, mostly having success at flattening the curve. Though parts of Australia and Vietnam have experienced a second wave of cases, leaders in both countries took quick action. Vietnam reinstated its restrictions, while Australia quickly closed state borders.