New Zealand finally has a date when it will reach its old destination COVID-19: 15 June.
After weeks of being urged by public health experts and government disputes, the country’s Ministry of Health has set the definition of eradicating deadly viruses.
New Zealand has followed the path of elimination policy since the arrival of the virus, avoiding milder approaches by countries including Australia.
The Kiwi approach, including a seven-week lockout, pays dividends.
On Thursday, health officials announced that they had not found a new case of the virus for 13 consecutive days, from thousands of tests.
Only one person in New Zealand has COVID-19, a Auckland resident who is currently isolating who has no symptoms this week, if the virus follows a normal course.
Australia currently has 491 active cases.
However, the latest Kiwi case is irrelevant to whether New Zealand has eliminated the disease.
The Ministry of Health now says elimination can be declared 28 days after the last case from “a source not known locally”, or transmission from the community, has completed their treatment and was declared negative.
According to the Ministry, the latest case of transmission of the New Zealand community was stated positive on April 29, and was isolated until May 18.
“According to the definition of elimination, the 28-day period will be calculated from the person’s exit from isolation,” a department spokesman told AAP.
That means when Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield holds regular daily briefings on June 15 – 28 days from May 18 – he will be able to say that New Zealand has eliminated COVID-19.
Of course, further findings from other cases of community transmission will restart the clock to the elimination milestone.
The date has symbolic significance but Dr Bloomfield said it would not stop the ongoing government work to prevent new cases.
“Elimination is an ongoing process,” he said.
“Maybe there is no domestic transmission on land or COVID-19 infection on land. It would be better if we reach that point and look more like us.
“But our elimination strategy is ongoing because we clearly still have steps at the border and a desire to open borders in a safe way.”
Otago University Professor Michael Baker, whose research, advice and modeling has been relied upon by the New Zealand Government through the COVID-19 crisis, has called on the government to provide an official definition of elimination.
Dr Baker said if New Zealand reached that definition, it would be “a big achievement”.
“We are not the best players in the world, we often say that Taiwan is the best. They are now in 56 days since their last case.
“But New Zealand and Australia are at the top of the OECD for deaths which is a major achievement for both countries.”
Iceland (with two active cases) is also close to eliminating NZ style.
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