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Coronavirus Eliminated in New Zealand Following Government Response

Health + Wellness
Coronavirus Eliminated in New Zealand Following Government Response
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media at a press conference ahead of a nationwide lockdown to combat the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic at Parliament on March 25, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand. Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

Five weeks after launching an aggressive nationwide lockdown to combat the coronavirus pandemic—coupled with one of the most robust economic relief packages of any country—New Zealand's government on Monday announced that the new coronavirus is currently "eliminated" in the nation.


The country's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday that while cases are not at zero, new cases have been in the single digits for the past several days—an "incredible" statistic, said Ardern, as other countries face thousands of new cases per day.

"We have done what very few countries have been able to do," Ardern said last week as the country was preparing to move from a Level 4 restrictions to Level 3, allowing some businesses to reopen. "We have stopped a wave of devastation."

One new case was reported Monday, as well as four "probable cases" and one new death.

"We've achieved our goal of elimination... That never meant zero but it does mean we know where our cases are coming from," Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said.

As the country reduces restrictions to Level 3, businesses that reopen will be required to maintain physical distancing rules. Schools will reopen with limited capacity, and workers will still be encouraged to work from home if they are able to. Events such as weddings and funerals will only be able to take place with up to 10 people in attendance, and public buildings such as museums, libraries, and gyms will remain shuttered for the time being.

New Zealand has confirmed a total of 1,469 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, since the first case there was detected on February 28.

In New Zealand, home to 4.8 million, the disease has infected about 30 in every 100,000 people and has killed 19 people—fewer than one in every 100,000 people.

The numbers in the island nation contrast sharply with those in the U.S., where nearly one million people have been sickened—nearly 300 in every 100,000—and more than 50,000 people have died.

Ardern has been credited with enforcing a strict lockdown even before the disease had claimed any lives in New Zealand. Two weeks after the first case was reported, the prime minister ordered anyone entering the country to self-quarantine for 14 days. Most businesses shut down on March 23, when there were 102 cases and no deaths, and the country began enforcing Level 4 restrictons—forbidding people to leave home except for outdoor exercise nearby—on March 25.

Ardern's extreme measures were in line with the recommendations of top public health officials, including U.S. National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, who said last month that the measures most effective at slowing the outbreak would likely be seen as "too drastic" by many.

New Zealand has also been testing the public at one of the highest rates in the world, Ardern said Monday, administering nearly 124,000 tests in recent weeks with the capacity to complete 8,000 tests per day. The U.S. has increased its testing capacity in the past month, but public health experts say the severe lag in confronting the pandemic in the U.S. after the first case was reported there in January has made the disease difficult to contain.

On social media, observers noted the stark contrast between the two countries' approaches, with government watchdog Public Citizen saying the United States' response has been marked by the "unending incompetence" of the Trump administration.

New Zealand paired its orders for the country to stay at home for five weeks with a major relief package amounting to about 4% of the country's GDP—a far more significant spending plan than other wealthy countries.

The government covered wages for all New Zealanders who had to self-isolate but couldn't work from home or were caring for sick family members. Businesses were also offered subsidies to continue paying employees, and the government doubled its healthcare spending.

Public health agencies were given resources for contact-tracing to determine who ill people could have potentially spread the disease to, while hospitals received support to increase intensive care units.

"This package is one of the largest in the world on a per capita basis," Grant Robertson, New Zealand's finance minister, said in March as the package was announced.

Meanwhile in the U.S., President Donald Trump has largely left it up to states to determine how to approach lockdowns, and several states have begun reopening their economies—even though the testing rate in the U.S. is lower than New Zealand's and thousands of new cases are being reported per day.

"The earlier and more decisively governments acted, the sooner they can responsibly ease their lockdowns," columnist George Monbiot tweeted. "Unlike New Zealand's and South Korea's, our government dithered and delayed. As a result, we're now in a terrible mess."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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