New Zealanders celebrate elimination of coronavirus by queuing McDonalds, Coffee shops

Coffee and fast food seemed to be the first thing on the mind of New Zealanders as the country emerged from almost five weeks of strict lockdown.

The alert level has shifted to level three, allowing takeaway food shops and some non-essential business to re-open.

And it wasn’t long before queues formed in front of coffee shops and McDonald’s outlets as people rushed out.

“That cup of coffee tasted amazing and I felt a sense of normality come back into my life,” said one coffee lover.

“Nothing beats a skilled barista making you coffee,” Victoria Howe, who is based in Auckland said.

But it was the re-opening of McDonald’s that got people most excited – with local media speaking to one Auckland resident who said he arrived at 04:00.

Pictures online showed queues of cars and people posing with their fast food loot.

But though the curve appears to have flattened, New Zealand’s top health expert warned against people congregating outside public spaces.

Under the level three alert – a notch below its highest alert level – people have still been told to stay at home and work at home if they can, but businesses are allowed to open if they can provide contactless service.

Schools are also allowed to re-open but will have to ensure social distancing rules are followed. Mass gatherings however, remain cancelled and public venues closed.

New Zealand currently has 1,124 confirmed cases and 19 deaths out of a population of around five million people. Its new cases have stayed in the single digits for several days, leading the government to say that the virus was effectively eliminated.

How New Zealand fattened the curve?

New Zealand’s apparent success in containing the virus has been attributed to its early and sweeping actions.

New Zealand brought in some of the toughest restrictions in the world on travel and activity on 19 March, early on in the global pandemic.

That helped stop cases being brought in from overseas – 33% of New Zealand’s cases were imported.

As Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at the time: “We only have 102 cases, but so did Italy once.”

“If you look at neighbouring Australia, two-thirds of its cases came from overseas,” Prof Sanjaya Senanayake of the Australian National University said.

“So it was really important to close the borders and it did that very effectively.”

On 21 March, New Zealand introduced a new public alert system with four levels – the highest being a total national lockdown and the lowest indicating that the disease was contained but people should be prepared.

It went in at level two, which meant there was a growing risk of community transmission. Days later, the country moved into a level four alert.

Offices, schools and public spaces like beaches and playground were shut. Bars and restaurants were also closed – including for takeaway and delivery.

The ministry of health says 80% of close contacts of someone confirmed with the virus are now being alerted within 48 hours of the diagnosis.

That means those people can self-isolate until the incubation period has passed, and they can get tested. Officials say 8,000 people are being tested each day.

There has been some criticism though that contact tracing needs to be scaled up even more if it’s to remain effective.

People are also being encouraged to keep a diary of people they interact with, and New Zealand is also working on a contact tracing app, similar to those in use in Singapore and Australia.