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New Zealand "beat the virus again," PM Jacinda Ardern says

Auckland will join the rest of New Zealand this week in enjoying no domestic coronavirus restrictions after the city's outbreak was deemed "under control," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Monday.

Driving the news: The second COVID-19 outbreak that began in August in New Zealand's most populous city grew to 179 cases, Ardern said at a briefing. "Only five people from the cluster are yet to recover," she said.

The big picture: New Zealand went 102 days with no detected cases in the community before COVID-19 re-emerged in Auckland, which went into a lockdown that was less severe than the first one earlier this year.

  • Masks were mandatory on New Zealand public transport, and contact tracing was stepped up.
  • Lesser restrictions were reintroduced elsewhere in the country. These were later lifted when it became clear that the cluster had been contained to Auckland.

Of note: Ardern cited statistics shared with Axios last Friday by Te Pūnaha Matatini, a research center advising the government, showing there's a 95% chance that COVID-19 has been eliminated in the community.

  • As a result, Auckland's restrictions will lift at 11:59pm Wednesday local time. However, Ardern urged New Zealanders to remain vigilant against the virus' threat and vowed to keep testing rates up.

What else she's saying: Ardern noted that Auckland going into lockdown again after the virus' re-emergence "felt harder" and longer than the previous one, when the entire country was placed under some of the world's toughest coronavirus restrictions.

  • "But despite that, Aucklanders and New Zealanders stuck to the plan, which has worked twice now and beat the virus again," Ardern added.

What they did: Te Pūnaha Matatini director Shaun Hendy said in an interview with Axios Friday that the cluster had been contained to Auckland because of the city's short, sharp lockdown and rigorous coronavirus testing rates.

  • Ensuring workers at air borders like Auckland Airport are tested regularly means "we'll catch [cases] early and stop them turning into a bigger outbreak," Hendy said.

What's next: Te Pūnaha Matatini has developed a compartment model that can be used for targeted interventions to avoid widespread lockdowns should any future outbreaks occur. This computer modeling can predict down to the suburb where the virus might spread.

  • "We might be able to look at particular industries or workplaces and come up with targeted measures that are cheaper ... to implement and have less impact on people's lives," Hendy said.
"It's probably less a model that will run in reaction to an outbreak and more so that we can use in the planning for the next outbreak."

Go deeper: Australia and New Zealand to open "safe travel zone"

Editor's note: This article has been updated with more details from the briefing, comment from Hendy and further context.

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