June 8 (UPI) -- New Zealand has eliminated domestic transmission of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday as she announced the lifting of all restrictions on business and social interactions within the archipelago nation.
Ardern announced during a press conference that New Zealand will be moving to its lowest COVID-19 alert level 1 as of midnight, lifting restrictions from businesses, social gatherings and the like that have been in place since the country went under strict lockdown 75 days ago.
"We are confident we have eliminated transmission of the virus in New Zealand for now, but elimination is not a point in time -- it is a sustained effort," she said.
Ardern thanked her "team of 5 million," as she has referred to the New Zealand citizenry during the pandemic, for their sacrifices over the past 11 weeks to reach this milestone.
With the announcement, New Zealand becomes one of the first countries to announce domestic elimination of the virus after going 17 days without detecting a new case within its borders and 12 days without a patient in hospital sickened with the deadly and infectious coronavirus that has killed more than 400,000 people worldwide since it emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
The country went under lockdown March 25 when it had around 280 cases of the virus. As of Monday, it has recorded 22 deaths to the virus and 1,504 cases, one of the lowest per capita rates in the world, she said.
The only measures from the lockdown to remain in place will be those on borders to stymie further infections from entering the country, she said, adding that despite having eliminated the virus, more infections will occur.
"I want to say again: We will almost certainly see cases here again," she said, "but when that occurs it will not mean we have failed. It is the reality of this virus. We must be and we are prepared for future cases. That's the reason our border remains our first line of defense as we aim not to import the virus."
Ardern told reporters she "did a little dance" when she learned there were no active cases within the country, startling her 2-year-old daughter, Neve, in the process.
"I showed Neve. She was caught a little bit by surprise but she joined in having absolutely no idea why I was dancing around the lounge but enjoying it none the least," she said.
Since it emerged in early December, more than 7 million people have been sickened with the coronavirus, and though many countries once reeling from infections have seen recent drops in cases and deaths, others have seen surges.
Russia, which sits third worldwide in cases with 476,658, and 14th in deaths with 5,971, recorded 8,985 infections over Sunday, a drop from a high of over 10,000 new daily cases recorded early last month but continuing a trend of tallying around 9,000 cases a day since then, according to worldometer.info.
The United States leads the world in both infections and deaths, surpassing more than 2 million cases on Sunday with nearly 19,000 new cases over the previous 24 hours, and 112,469 fatalities.
China, the former epicenter of the virus, has slipped to 18th worldwide in cases and deaths with 83,040 infections and 4,634 fatalities.
Beijing's National Health Commission reported four new cases and zero deaths over the previous 24 hours.