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

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern participates in early voting at the Mt Eden War Memorial Hall in Auckland on Saturday. Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

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

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," Ardern 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 lockdown. Lesser restrictions were reintroduced elsewhere in NZ.

What 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 more severe restrictions to combat COVID-19 earlier this year.

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

Of note: Ardern cited statistics shared with Axios Friday by Te Pūnaha Matatini, a research center advising the government, which shows there's a 95% chance that the virus has been eliminated in the community — though she urged New Zealanders to remain vigilant against the virus' threat.

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

  • Targeting workers at air borders like Auckland Airport means "we’ll catch those early and stop them turning into a bigger outbreak," Hendy said.

For the record: Te Pūnaha Matatini has developed a compartment model that can be used for more targeted interventions as a tool to avoid more widespread lockdowns if there's another outbreak.

  • This computer modeling can predict down to the suburb where the virus might spread.
  • "We might be able to look at particular industries or work places 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."

What's next: Auckland's restrictions will lift at 11:59 p.m. this Wednesday local time.

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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