Ardern optimistic as New Zealand records lowest number of Covid-19 cases for two weeks

PM says she ‘misses people’ but urges residents to stick to strict lockdown measures, which appear to be quashing coronavirus

New Zealand has recorded its lowest number of new coronavirus cases in a fortnight, one day after testing a record number of people.

There were 50 new confirmed or probable cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand on Wednesday, with 4,098 tests for the virus processed on Tuesday.

The number of new cases dropped from 54 on Tuesday and 67 on Monday. New Zealand’s government announced a strict national lockdown a fortnight ago that requires everyone except essential workers to stay home at all times, unless they are accessing vital services or walking for exercise.

Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister, said while the country “might see bumps along the way,” she was encouraged that the country might be “turning a corner” in quashing the spread of the virus.

“I have cautious optimism, but now is the time to stay the course,” she told reporters at parliament in Wellington on Wednesday.

In total, 1,210 total cases have been reported in New Zealand with 282 of those people now recovered from the virus. One person has died of the coronavirus since the pandemic began.

There are 12 people in hospital, four of them in intensive care and two of those in a critical condition.

New Zealand’s approach in invoking early, restrictive shutdown measures has been widely praised. But two weeks into a lockdown of at least four weeks, officials warned against complacency as arrests rose over breaches of the rules.

A total 76 people were caught by officers violating the stay-at-home restrictions in the previous 24 hours alone, said police commissioner Andrew Coster on Wednesday, adding that a total of 367 breaches had been recorded by the police so far.

Eight officers had been forced into self-isolation after people claiming to have Covid-19 had spat on them in “incredibly distressing” incidents, Coster said.

“You end up with people who don’t know whether they’re at risk,” he added.

While the restrictive measures have been widely supported in New Zealand, heads of industry urged MPs on Wednesday for more clarity on a roadmap for how businesses would exit the lockdown.

Phil O’Reilly, the former chief executive of Business New Zealand, told meeting of the parliamentary committee scrutinising the government’s actions on Covid-19 that firms understood officials could not yet say when the most restrictive shutdown measures would end. But lifting them without warning would cause “all sorts of confusion”, he said.

“Business is not saying tell us a date,” he said. “They’re saying tell us a pathway.”

Chris Roberts, representing the tourism sector, New Zealand’s biggest export earner, said he expected an NZ$12bn drop in tourist spending over the next six months. Most companies had “zero” income and would need government support beyond its wage subsidy scheme, he added.

But halfway through the country’s month-long lockdown, attention was mostly fixed on surviving the next two weeks. Ardern, speaking at her daily news conference, was asked how her life had changed during the shutdown.

“I miss people,” she said. “This is nothing against any of the fine people in this room,” she added, referring to the reporters she briefs daily. “But I am used to having a lot of contact with the public.”


Charlotte Graham-McLay in Wellington

The GuardianTramp

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