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New Zealand eliminates coronavirus transmission as European countries report fewer deaths

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Jacinda Ardern smiles as she announces New Zealand will drop to COVID-19 alert level 1 at midnight. Wellington, New Zealand, June 8, 2020
Jacinda Ardern smiles as she announces New Zealand will drop to COVID-19 alert level 1 at midnight. Wellington, New Zealand, June 8, 2020   -   Copyright  Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald via AP
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Health officials in New Zealand said on Monday that they had eliminated coronavirus transmission for the moment after the last known infected person recovered, marking the first time since late February the country had no active cases.

The last new case was reported 17 days ago, during which time an additional 40,000 people have been tested, bringing the total number tested to about 300,000.

The announcement was greeted with joy around the country and means the nation of roughly 5 million people will be among the first to welcome fans back into sports stadiums, embrace crowded concerts and remove seating restrictions from flights.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was confident New Zealand had halted the spread of the virus.

“We almost certainly will see cases here again, and that is not a sign that we have failed, it is a reality of this virus. But if and when that occurs we have to make sure — and we are — that we are prepared.”

What restrictions remain in place in New Zealand?

For now, the border remains shut to all but citizens and residents, with some limited exceptions. Everyone who enters the country must quarantine.

Ardern announced that the Cabinet had agreed to remove almost all remaining virus restrictions from midnight, with the exception of the border closure.

Experts say a number of factors have helped New Zealand to wipe out the disease including its isolated location in the South Pacific which gave it time to see the devastating spread of the virus in other countries.

The prime minister also acted decisively by imposing a strict lockdown early in the outbreak.

She said her government’s focus will be on the country’s borders, where isolation and quarantine will continue.

Just over 1,500 people contracted the virus in New Zealand and 22 people died, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Is Europe on the right path too?

Europe's worst-affected countries have also shown encouraging signs.

On Sunday, the UK said its new coronavirus deaths dropped below 100 for the first time since lockdown began on March 23.

The daily rate of new COVID-19 cases in Italy has also decreased, and the country reported no deaths in six of its regions on Sunday.

France on Sunday said just 13 people died in hospital in 24 hours, the lowest number of daily deaths since mid-March.

Spain had only one coronavirus-related death on Friday.

No new deaths in Scotland, while Vatican defeats virus

Scotland said on Sunday it registered no new coronavirus deaths for the first time since the nation began lockdown on March 23.

Health authorities however told the public to take the figures with "a note of caution" due to the lag in recording deaths over the weekend.

"We know that fewer deaths tend to be registered at the weekend than on other days of the week. It is still very likely that further COVID deaths will be reported in the days ahead," she said.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon reiterated the message on social media:

Meanwhile, the Vatican appears to have defeated coronavirus, as it said on Saturday that it had no more active cases.

"The last person to have contracted coronavirus in recent weeks has tested negative," press office director Matteo Bruni said in a statement.

"To date, there is no longer any coronavirus case among the employees of the Holy See" or within the Vatican, the press release said.

The Vatican had 12 cases overall and no deaths reported.