Jacinda Arden, who has received praise for her handling of the virus, said they could lift the remaining lockdown restrictions on social distancing and group gatherings after recording no new cases in nearly two weeks.
“In moving to level one soon, we will be one of the first countries in the world to have experienced a COVID-19 outbreak and then return to that level of normality so quickly,” she said Tuesday during a news conference.
She added: “Our strategy of go hard, go early has paid off.”
As of Wednesday, New Zealand recorded 1,504 cases and only 22 deaths.
Ardern said the cabinet will decide next Monday on whether to lower the country’s status to level one – about two weeks earlier than originally planned.
Under level one there is no requirement for physical distancing or limits on the number of people allowed in places like bars, clubs, churches and sports venues, Arden said.
“If it hasn’t, then we will be in a good position to move,” Ardern said.
Experts have praised New Zealand’s success at controlling the virus largely in part because a strict lockdown was put in place early into the pandemic and enforced for nearly seven weeks.
Arden said waiting until Monday will allow her to see if recent changes have led to a rise in cases.
In mid-May, the country began to ease its restrictions, allowing malls, retail stores, salons, barbershops and restaurants to reopen in the South Pacific nation. Domestic tourism was also allowed at the time, with schools following soon after.
There are no immediate plans to reopen New Zealand’s border.
On Monday, thousands of New Zealanders defied those restrictions for a protest over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes while he gasped for air.
Ardern said she was “horrified” by Floyd’s death, but noted that protesters flouted restrictions still in place.
“I don’t want to stop peaceful protests,” she told state broadcast TVNZ. “But rules are there to protect people.”
Police said neither protest organizers nor participants will be prosecuted.