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NI doctor Caroline's crucial role in helping New Zealand halt coronavirus

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Dr Caroline McElnay, the director of public health in New Zealand, speaks to the media in Wellington

Dr Caroline McElnay, the director of public health in New Zealand, speaks to the media in Wellington

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Prime Minister: Jacinta Ardern

Prime Minister: Jacinta Ardern

Getty Images

Dr Caroline McElnay, the director of public health in New Zealand, speaks to the media in Wellington

A Northern Ireland woman who is leading New Zealand's fight against the coronavirus has revealed how her adopted country has largely eliminated the pandemic.

Dr Caroline McElnay, who grew up on a dairy farm near Bushmills in Co Antrim and went on to study medicine at Queen's University Belfast, emigrated to New Zealand 25 years ago.

Now director of public health in New Zealand, she appears frequently at press briefings with Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern on Covid-19.

The country has been hailed as an example of how governments can successfully tackle the crisis after recording yesterday just 17 new cases of the virus, bringing the total to 1,366 and nine deaths to date.

New Zealand adopted a policy of elimination at the outset of the pandemic.

Other countries, including the UK, opted for a containment approach.

A strict lockdown is in place, which prevents citizens from swimming in the ocean or hunting in bushland.

Dr McElnay told the Irish Times that she attributed the country's low case and death rates to its swift response.

"We haven't seen the rapid escalation of cases seen in so many other countries because we went into lockdown earlier, before we had significant numbers of cases," she said.

Efforts have been helped by its remote location as well as air travel restrictions.

Around 1,000 people who arrived in New Zealand after the lockdown were held in commandeered hotels and monitored until they are shown not to have the virus.

A highly efficient contact tracing system is also helping.

Dr McElnay said: "Our advantage is that we are an island nation, so we can have strict border controls and that is really helpful."

The public health expert relocated to New Zealand in 1995 with her husband and is now a citizen with three children: Caitriona, Roisin and Connor.

With over two decades of work in public health, she is no stranger to dealing with emergencies, but says "no training can really prepare you for what it's actually like" tackling a pandemic.

New Zealand will decide early next week what will happen after an initial four-week lockdown ends on April 22 - weeks before other countries will expect to follow suit.

However, Dr McElnay admitted the pandemic has still posed considerable challenges, with the indigenous Maori and Pacific Island people more at risk from the spread of Covid-19.

Belfast Telegraph