Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has pleaded with New Zealanders to maintain their vigilance against COVID-19 while announcing plans to lessen her country's lockdown restrictions from next week.
After a month under a severe clampdown, New Zealand will move from the current alert 'level four' restrictions to 'level three' on Tuesday 28 April from when it will continue for a fortnight.
The decision was taken at a crunch meeting of Cabinet, where Ms Ardern said she felt confident there was no widespread community transmission of coronavirus.
While announcing the decision, Ms Ardern paid tribute to Kiwis who have maintained physical distancing and made sacrifices during the clampdown.
"The effort of our team of five million has broken the chain of transmission," she said.
"New Zealanders have done an exceptional job, by and large, with sticking with what has been an extraordinary ask.
"Compared to the rest of the world, we've done something that I think is incredible.
"All of you have stopped the uncontrolled explosion of COVID-19 in New Zealand and I couldn't be prouder."
Ms Ardern said Cabinet's decision to shift restrictions was unanimously supported, and followed the recommendation of top health adviser Ashley Bloomfield.
The shift will see schools resume classes, more businesses functioning and restaurants re-opening for delivery services only.
New Zealand has consistently placed public health concerns above economic concerns, first moving to lockdown on March 23 off the back of just 102 cases.
Ms Ardern has been steadfast in her belief that eradicating the disease will allow New Zealand the best economic response.
"Alert level three allows more economic activity, like construction, manufacturing and forestry, but it does not allow more social activity. And for good reason," Ms Ardern said.
"If we want to make sure we are a health success story and ensure our economy can start to operate again without the virus, we need to get this next phase right.
"The worst thing we could do would be to yo-yo between levels with all the uncertainty that can bring."
During the back half of the lockdown, New Zealand's case numbers have plummeted from a daily high of 89 cases to single digits.
On Monday, Kiwi health officials announced nine new cases, bringing the nationwide tally to 1440.
Of that, 974 people have recovered from the virus.
With no deaths in the last 24 hours, the country's death toll stands at 12.
Ms Ardern urged New Zealanders not to treat the downscaling of the lockdown as the end of the country's COVID-19 challenge.
"Please stay strong. Stay home. Be kind. And let's finish what we started," she said.
"You have sacrificed too much for us to lose those gains now. Let's lock them in."
There remain no firm plans to recall parliament, which has been suspended during the lockdown.
Australian Associated Press