New Zealand marks 100 days without coronavirus spread

New Zealand marked a welcome milestone. Credit: AP

New Zealand on Sunday marked 100 days since it stamped out the spread of the coronavirus, a rare bright spot in a world that continues to be ravaged by the disease.

Life has returned to normal for many people in the South Pacific nation of five million, as they attend rugby games at packed stadiums and sit down in bars and restaurants without the fear of getting infected.

But some worry the country may be getting complacent and not preparing well enough for any future outbreaks.

New Zealand got rid of the virus by imposing a strict lockdown in late March when only about 100 people had tested positive for the disease.

That stopped its spread.

For the past three months, the only new cases have been a handful of returning travellers who have been quarantined at the border.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's leadership has been widely praised.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is keen to quash the outbreak. Credit: PA

She reassured people during the lockdown with daily briefings and a message that resonated: "Go hard and go early."

On Sunday she hailed the 100-day milestone but cautioned that everyone must remain vigilant.

New Zealand's economy has fared better than many predicted.

The country has managed to keep its unemployment rate at just 4%, although many economists say the number doesn't account for recent job losses and will likely get significantly worse after a government-funded wage subsidy expires next month.

Total infections were limited to just over 1,500 and the country has had just 22 deaths.

Opinion polls indicate support for Ms Ardern's liberal Labour Party has surged ahead, heading into a general election next month.

Still, New Zealand's international tourism industry has collapsed and the country remains more isolated from the outside world than before.

Ms Ardern's government has been reluctant to reopen the border to any other countries, even as other nations cautiously do so.

The experience of some other countries, including Vietnam and Australia, shows how easily the virus can flare up again even when it looks like it's been brought under control.

Sunday, at least, marked a milestone that many in New Zealand noted with a sense of thankfulness and relief.