New Zealand reports 2 coronavirus deaths, Australia has 56

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – New Zealand said on Saturday there had been two new deaths due to the coronavirus – its biggest daily total to date despite the low number and bringing the total to four in a country that’s halfway through a four-week nationwide lockdown.

Both deaths were older people with underlying health conditions and were linked to existing clusters, Director of Public Health Caroline McElnay said in a televised briefing.

The number of new confirmed cases in the nation of about 5 million rose by 20 for a total of 1,035.

New Zealand’s wide-ranging lockdown measures that have seen offices and schools shut and all non-essential services closed as well as strong political leadership from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have been hailed for their relative success in containing the spread of the virus.

Neighboring Australia has also seen the pace of infections slow dramatically in the past week. According to Australia’s health ministry, the number of new confirmed cases rose on Saturday by 86 to 6,238, while there were 56 deaths.

Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said on Friday that the country was on the ‘cusp’ of eliminating the virus, but he added: “Whether that’s where we’re going to be in several weeks or months remains to be seen.”

New South Wales Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian warned on Saturday, however, that despite the early encouraging signs of stabilization in the rise of new cases, the country is not out of the woods yet.

“The worst is yet to hit us,” she said in a news briefing.

In its toughest crackdown against the virus yet, Australia has deployed helicopters, police checkpoints and hefty fines to deter people from breaking a travel ban during the Easter holidays, which started on Friday and run until Monday. [L5N2BY076]

NSW Arts Minister Don Harwin quit the cabinet over the weekend after moving to his holiday home, breaching a public health order.

“I will not allow my circumstances to be a distraction from (NSW government’s) work and I very much regret that my residential arrangements have become an issue during this time,” Harwin said in a statement.

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