Coronavirus: A timeline of how New Zealand flattened the curve and beat COVID-19

We did it, New Zealand - there are now zero known infections of COVID-19 in the country.

It's been 17 days since the last new case, and the last person known to be infected has now recovered.

Provided there's no undetected transmission in the community, the only way the killer virus can make a comeback here is if it arrives on someone coming in from overseas.

So how did we get here? Here's a timeline of how we pulled it off.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield.
Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield. Photo credit: Getty

The outbreak begins

December 31, 2019: Chinese health officials tell the World Health Organization (WHO) about a new virus causing fevers and pneumonia-like symptoms. The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, linked to several of the infections, is shut down the next day.

January 6, 2020: Newshub first reports on the "mystery virus" which at this stage is known to have infected 59 people in Wuha, China. At this stage there's no evidence it can spread from person-to-person, and the WHO says there's need to recommend against travel to or from Wuhan or China. The next day it's confirmed as a coronavirus, like SARS, which killed hundreds of people in 2002-3.

January 11: The first death is reported - a  61-year-old man who'd shopped at the seafood market, who died on January 9.

January 13: The first case is reported outside of China - a woman who travelled from Wuhan to Thailand. Over the next few days, the virus would be detected in other countries, including Australia, South Korea, France, the US and Vietnam. The next day, the WHO says there's still no evidence the virus can be transmitted between humans.

January 20: Chinese researchers say yes, the virus can be transmitted from human to human. 

New Zealand starts to pay attention

January 24: The Ministry of Health sets up a team to keep an eye on the virus' spread overseas

January 27: Health officials begin screening passengers coming off flights from China for signs of the virus. 

January 28: Prominent doctor and former New Zealander of the Year Lance O'Sullivan plays down fears, blaming the media for "a lot of fuss made about it, a lot of hysteria, a lot of beat-up". 

January 29: The Ministry of Health says the "risk of a sustained outbreak of coronavirus infection in New Zealand is low".

January 30: The WHO declares a global health emergency, with China's death toll surpassing 300 and cases detected across the sprawling nation. New Zealand charters a flight to get Kiwis out of Wuhan. 

WHO boss Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
WHO boss Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Photo credit: Getty

February 2: The Philippines reports the first death outside of China - a man from Wuhan. New Zealand bans travel from mainland China

February 11: The WHO names the virus SARS-CoV-2 and the disease COVID-19. By this point the death toll had surpassed that of SARS. 

The virus arrives

February 19: Iran reports its first cases and deaths, one of the first countries outside of east Asia to suffer an outbreak.

February 26: The virus reaches New Zealand aboard a man in his 60s who'd been in Iran. "Although we have our first case of COVID-19, the chances of community outbreak remain low," the Ministry of Health said two days later, publicly announcing its arrival here. New Zealand is the 48th country to report the virus. This is also the first day more cases are reported outside of China than within. 

February 28: Dr O'Sullivan admits he got it wrong, now fearing thousands of Kiwis could die. Another doctor, James Freeman, told The AM Show 40,000 could end up critically unwell, and about half of them could die. The Government bans travel from Iran. Queues begin forming outside supermarkets as people rush to stock up on goods like toilet paper. Health staff begin checking on passengers arriving from flights from Singapore, Thailand and other Asian nations with confirmed outbreaks.

February 29: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern slams "irresponsible" headlines covering the country's first case, saying they have "caused unnecessary anxiety for the public". National's health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse says the Government's response to the virus' arrival here has been "entirely inadequate", with the patient - who was wearing a mask on the flight - initially being told he was fine to go to work since his temperature was below 38C, despite developing a cough. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield. Photo credit: Getty

March 1: The first deaths in the US and Australia are reported. Some passengers aboard the Emirates flight which brought the virus to New Zealand are reportedly yet to be contacted. A young woman tells Newshub she got off a flight from Italy - then with the third-highest number of cases in the world - but was waved through Customs without a problem. New Zealand starts ordering arrivals from South Korea and northern Italy to self-isolate. 

March 3-5: Two more COVID-19 cases are confirmed in New Zealand - one linked to Iran, the other to Italy - bringing the total to three. The infection linked to Iran is the first case of local transmission of the virus. Finance Minister Grant Robertson expresses concern about the economic fallout from COVID-19, but is confident New Zealand is well-placed to handle it. National MP David Bennett is criticised for encouraging panic-buying

March 6: It's revealed one of those known to be infected attended a Tool concert at Spark Arena in late February, sparking fears of an outbreak. New Zealand's fourth case is reported. 

March 7-21: New cases are reported sporadically, the most being 14 on March 22. Most cases can still be linked back to overseas travel, but there are a few cases of potential local transmission.

Pandemic declared

March 11: The WHO declares COVID-19 is a pandemic, and Italy goes into lockdown. 

March 13: Auckland's Pasifika Festival is cancelled over fears it could cause an outbreak, and the Black Caps play a match against Australia in Sydney inside an empty stadium.

March 14: The Government cancels a memorial service scheduled the next day for victims of the March 15, 2019 massacre in Christchurch.  

""The advice we received for this event, is that based on people travelling from different parts of the country and from overseas, if there was a case it could be difficult to trace those who had come into contact with that person, so we are taking a cautious approach," said Ardern. The Government says anyone coming into New Zealand has to self-isolate for 14 days, unless they're arriving from the Pacific Islands, most of which are yet to report any cases of COVID-19. 

March 17: Immigration NZ detains two foreigners who failed to self-isolate on arriving in New Zealand. About 2870 people who may have come into contact with a known case are in self-isolation. 

March 18: MFAT urges Kiwis overseas to come home as soon as possible, and the Government cancels Anzac commemorations to be held in Turkey in April

March 19: The Government forces the cancellation of all events of 100 people or more, and bans entry to most foreigners for the first time in history. Kiwis coming home are required to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival. 

March 20: Auckland Council shuts its public services, including swimming pools and libraries. Other councils quickly follow suit.

Empty Auckland street during the lockdown.
Empty Auckland street during the lockdown. Photo credit: Getty

NZ goes into lockdown

March 21: The Government unveils its four-level pandemic alert system, with the country immediately entering level 2. People older than 70 are urged to stay home. For the first time, health officials say they are treating cases as community transmission, unable to link them back to an overseas arrival. Auckland Mayor Phil Goff condemns people who crowded into the city's nightclubs

March 23: There's a massive jump in the number of new cases - 36 - bringing the total to 102. Ardern announces the country is moving to alert level 3 immediately, and to level 4 - a full lockdown - in just two days' time. Over the next couple of weeks, the number of new cases each day rapidly rises, peaking at 89 on April 2 and April 5. 

March 25: A state of emergency is declared in NZ. The Olympic Games are postponed to 2021. Fifty new cases are reported. 

March 26: New Zealand, with 205 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and no deaths, goes into lockdown. Another 78 cases are reported that afternoon.

March 29: New Zealand reports its first death from COVID-19 - a West Coast woman in her 70s. It was initially thought she had influenza, so staff weren't using the right protective equipment. 

April 2-5: New confirmed cases reach their peak, with more than 70 reported each day.

April 3: Professor Michael Baker from the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago says unlike most nations, New Zealand has a chance of eradicating COVID-19.

"All around the country all these chains of transmission of the virus - and we would have had some - gradually being snuffed out. So I think that was a fantastic move by the Government."

April 6: The number of new cases reported each day begins to decrease thanks to the lockdown - dropping from 89 on April 5 to 18 by April 12. Patients who fell ill with COVID-19 in the previous two weeks would mostly have been infected prior to the lockdown - it can take up to 14 days for symptoms to show. 

The curve is flattened 

April 7: For the first time, recoveries - 65 - outnumber new cases - 54. Health Minister David Clark is demoted after admitting two apparent breaches of the lockdown rules.

April 9: Only 29 cases are reported, the lowest number since the lockdown began. New Zealand's second death - a Christchurch woman in her 90s - is reported. 

April 14: Four deaths are announced - all men - and three are linked to a cluster at Christchurch's Rosewood Rest Home. It's New Zealand's worst day for deaths during the pandemic to date. 

April 15: Educational channel Papa Kāinga TV begins, in the absence of school.

April 17: The number of new cases reported drops below 10 for the first time since before the lockdown. The death toll by now is nine. 

April 20: Ardern extends the level 4 lockdown by another week. At that point New Zealand had 1440 confirmed infections - over the next week there would only be another 30. 

April 28: New Zealand moves out of alert level 4 into level 3, prompting queues at fast food restaurants which horrify the Prime Minister and health experts.

April 29: School resumes for students up to year 10 who need to attend because their parents have work commitments. Few go back.

Normality slowly returns

May 4: No new cases are reported for the first time since the beginning of March

"Clearly these are encouraging figures today, but it is just one moment in time," says Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, urging caution. 

May 14: New Zealand moves into level 2, but bars and nightclubs have to wait another week. The death toll has reached 21.

May 15: The estimated date New Zealand's final new case was infected, ahead of being reported.

May 18: School resumes for all students

May 20: The Government releases its tracing app.The National Party calls it "pointless", but by the time the last patient was declared recovered, about 500,000 people had registered. 

May 22: New Zealand's last new confirmed case to date is reported. 

May 24: A person dies after apparently recovering from COVID-19. The death isn't classified as being from COVID-19 until May 28. It's the last death in New Zealand from the disease to date, bringing the death toll to 22.

May 25: The Government lifts restrictions on social gatherings from 10 to 100 people

May 27: The last hospitalised patient is discharged. 

May 28: Ministry of Health data shows there are no active cases left in the entire South Island. 

May 29: There is just one person in New Zealand still with an active infection. Worldwide, more infections are reported this day than at any point in the pandemic to date - 125,000. 

June 1: About 4000 people flout social distancing rules to stage a protest in central Auckland, raising fears a move to level 1 could be delayed or even a potential new outbreak.

June 8: The last patient is declared recovered, making New Zealand free of the virus - as far as we know. Worldwide there have been 405,000 deaths and more than 7 million confirmed infections. New Zealand has had 22 deaths, 1154 confirmed cases and 350 probable.

It's been 17 days since New Zealand had a new confirmed case. 

But we might not be out of the woods just yet, with researchers saying modelling as of June 5 shows there's only a 95 percent chance the virus has been eliminated - and going to level 1 next week, as is widely predicted will increase the chance of a "very large new outbreak" from 3 to 8 percent.

"Someone who caught the virus three or four weeks ago may not have developed severe symptoms (which happens in around 30 percent of people) and not got a test. They could have passed the virus on to someone else, who also missed out on a test," they said.

"A chain of infections like this could continue for a while before it is detected. Some segments of the population, such as younger people, are less likely to develop symptoms and are therefore more likely to sustain hidden infection chains."