WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand on Wednesday reported 61 new cases of the coronavirus, but said it was too early to assess if the lower number of cases this week meant the nationwide lockdown measures were working.
The country was placed into a complete lockdown last Thursday, and a national emergency was declared, to beat the local transmission of COVID-19.
Offices and schools were shut and all non-essential services, bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms, cinemas, pools, museums, libraries and playgrounds were closed.
The government on Wednesday said there were 61 new cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours taking the total to 708.
The number of new COVID-19 cases was as high as 85 last week, but has stayed lower this week. More than half of the cases was related to overseas travel and community transmission cases were about 1%.
“While on the face of it that might seem a heartening number relative to some of the other figures we have had now, I want to emphasize it’s too early to assess if our measures are successfully slowing COVID-19,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a news conference.
Among all the confirmed cases, 82 people have recovered, and so far only one death has been recorded.
New Zealand, with about 5 million people, has fewer infections than many other countries, like neighbouring Australia, where the number of cases now exceeds 4,500 with 20 deaths.
Ardern has said she wants to see more testing as it was needed to stamp out the virus and guard against community transmission.
“If virus is in the community in this way… then worst thing we can do is to relax and be complacent, and allow the silent spread,” Ardern added.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson told a parliamentary committee earlier in the day that he expected a quantum economic shock from COVID-19 that would be greater than the global financial crisis.
He said the treasury department was expecting unemployment rates to likely be worse than that of the global financial crisis where it peaked at 6.7%. The treasury said initial projections show unemployment could increase from between 5% to well into double digits, while GDP reductions could be anywhere between 10-17%.
Banks have forecasted unemployment rates to increase by up to 30%, Robertson told the committee.
He said the government will still be going ahead with the May release of its annual budget, but its focus would be different.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)