SYDNEY (Reuters) – New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said on Wednesday she was cautiously optimistic about slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus as authorities reported the lowest number of new daily cases in two weeks.
New Zealand reported 50 new cases on Wednesday from 54 on Tuesday and 67 on Monday, bringing its tally to 1,210. One person has died.
The country of about 5 million people went into a lockdown and a national emergency was declared in late March to halt the transmission of the coronavirus.
“We may yet see bumps along the way but I remain cautiously optimistic that we are starting to turn a corner,” Ardern told a media briefing in Wellington.
She said there was no plan to relax the tough restrictions during Easter and urged everyone to avoid any travel during the long Easter weekend, in mid-April.
“Please do stay at home, stay to save lives and enjoy your ‘staycation’,” Ardern said in Wellington.
“Nothing changes because its Easter, the rules remain the same and the police will be enforcing this.”
Churches and places of worship will be closed at Easter, Ardern said as she encouraged people to use social media and online platforms to take part in religious services.
Under the lockdown, offices and schools have been shut and all non-essential services, bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms, cinemas, pools, museums, libraries and playgrounds have been closed for a month.
Ardern on Tuesday demoted her health minister for breaching the lockdown rules to the bottom cabinet ranking and stripped him of his role as associate finance minister.
The government also extended for a second time the state of emergency for a further seven days.
New Zealand has fewer infections than many countries, like neighbouring Australia, where the number of total cases is nearly 6,000, although the pace of infections there has slowed dramatically in the past week.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Robert Birsel)