New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Reuters

New Zeland has declared itself coronavirus-free after no new cases were reported for 17 days, and its last coronavirus patient recovered.

The country will move to level one, the lowest of its four-tier alert system, under which social distancing will no longer be required and there will be no limits on public gatherings.

The country's borders, however, will remain closed, and New Zealand citizens arriving from abroad will still be required to self-quarantine for fourteen days.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: "While we're in a safer, stronger position there's still no easy path back to pre-COVID life, but the determination and focus we have had on our health response will now be vested in our economic rebuild."

She praised her countrymen for how they "united in unprecedented ways to crush the virus."

"Our collective results I think speak for ourselves. This was what the sacrifice of our team of five million was for – to keep one another safe and to keep one another well."

"While the job is not done, there is no denying this is a milestone. So can I finish with a very simple Thank you, New Zealand." She added that "elimination is not a point in time, it is a sustained effort" and that her country would "certainly" see more cases in the future. "That is not a sign that we have failed. It is a reality of this virus."

New Zealand's lockdown began on March 25, shuttering schools and most businesses. Five weeks later, the country allowed takeaway food and non-essential businesses to reopen, and in early May the alert level dropped further.

The final move was originally scheduled for June 22, but was moved up after no new cases were reported for two and a half weeks, local news outlets said.

The country has seen 1, 154 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with just 22 deaths.

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