New Zealand reports no new coronavirus cases for second straight day

FILE PHOTO: People enjoy Muriwai Beach in the wake of New Zealand easing strict regulations implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) near Auckland, New Zealand April 28, 2020. REUTERS/Ruth McDowall

SYDNEY (Reuters) - New Zealand recorded no new coronavirus cases for the second straight day on Tuesday, but authorities said it was premature to discuss moving the country to “level one” in its scale of alert.

The Pacific nation, home to more than 5 million, moved to “level 2” last week, allowing cafes, shops and restaurants to reopen under strict social distancing rules.

“We are only just into alert level two; we still need to settle into the full alert level two parameters,” Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield told a news conference in Wellington.

Bloomfield said there was “still a long way to go” for the country to move into alert level one, which means the virus has been contained in the country.

“Even at this point, when we got zero or no cases that we can identify, that doesn’t mean we are out of the woods,” Bloomfield told reporters.

Like neighbouring Australia, New Zealand has so far escaped a high number of casualties. The country has had just over 1,500 infections and 21 deaths, aided by a nationwide lockdown that lasted for more than a month.

The government’s effective response to the pandemic has buoyed the popularity of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, with a Newshub-Reid Research poll showing her as the country’s most popular prime minister in a century.

New Zealand will also launch a contact-tracing app on Wednesday to help people track their movements, but the government said the data would not be shared with anyone besides the user.

The daily number of infections has been falling steadily over the last few weeks since peaking in early April, with the country registering only 19 new coronavirus cases in May. No cases were reported on eight separate days in May.

Reporting by Renju Jose. Editing by Gerry Doyle