WASHINGTON - New Zealand is moving to a new phase in its emergence from strict coronavirus lockdown measures Monday with some schools and businesses allowed to reopen.
The government reported just five new cases and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said authorities would continue to chase down any new infections. New Zealand has 1,100 confirmed cases and 19 deaths.
"There is no widespread, undetected community transmission in New Zealand," Ardern declared. "We have won that battle."
The eased restrictions will allow about 400,000 people to go back to work.
It has been one month since New Zealand urged people to stay home and ordered all non-essential businesses closed. Ardern said it is too soon to say when the country will achieve no more transmissions of COVID-19, a step necessary to fully reopen the country.
Part of the reopening strategy in neighboring Australia is the use of a smartphone app meant to help state governments and health care workers trace the close contacts of those who test positive for the coronavirus.
Such tracing helps authorities figure out who should isolate themselves and who might need to be tested to prevent further spreading.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said Monday afternoon nearly 2 million Australians had downloaded the app.
Some of the countries most affected by the pandemic reported drops Sunday in the number of daily deaths, with Italy, Spain and Britain saying their tolls were the lowest in about a month.
Britain welcomed Prime Minister Boris Johnson back to work Monday after he became the first world leader to contract COVID-19 and spent several days in an intensive care unit.
He spoke outside his Downing Street office, saying that while he understands the impatience and anxiety people feel, relaxing restrictions right now would risk a “new wave of death and disease” that would further harm the economy.
"I refuse to throw away all the effort and the sacrifice of the British people and to risk a second major outbreak and huge loss of life and the overwhelming of the NHS,” he said, referring to Britain’s National Health Service. “I ask you to contain your impatience, because I believe we are coming now to the end of the first phase of this conflict. And in spite of all the suffering, we have so nearly succeeded."
Meanwhile Italy is looking forward to easing its strict lockdown measures beginning next week.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said people would be allowed to visit relatives in smaller groups, but would have to wear face masks. Parks are set to open, but schools will remain closed until September.
Conte said there is no decision yet on when to restart the Serie A football league, but that individual players can resume training May 4 and teams can assemble for training on May 18.
COVID-19 has killed about 27,000 people in Italy.
The outbreak has shut down sports leagues all over the world, and one way in which athletes and fans are coping is by turning to video games.
Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Caroline Wozniacki and Karolina Pliskova are among the professional tennis players participating in a four-day live-streamed charity tournament.
They will play matches in the Tennis World Tour video game with $162,000 in prize money going to coronavirus relief efforts and to help lower-ranked tennis players in need of financial aid while regular tour events are suspended.
Confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide are approaching 3 million and fatalities have exceeded 206,000, according to Johns Hopkins University statistics.