WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand justified its tough lockdown policies despite a significant drop in the number of coronavirus cases on Friday, with officials citing two new deaths as evidence of the risk from lifting social restrictions too soon.

The country reported just eight fresh COVID-19 cases, the first single digit increase in weeks, taking to the total to 1,409.

However, the two new deaths took the death toll to 11, around half of which are linked to an elderly care home in Christchurch.

“This serves as a sombre reminder that we need to continue to stay home to stay lives and break the chain of transmission,” Finance Minister Grant Robertson said at a news conference.

Offices, schools and all non-essential services like bars, restaurants, cafes and playgrounds have been closed for almost a month as part of New Zealand’s “Level 4” lockdown. The government is due to make a decision on whether to extend, lift or ease the lockdown on Monday.

Robertson warned people not to expect a major change to the current restrictions, which also limit public movement.

“A little longer now on level 4 or level 3, is ultimately better for the economy than an early exit and potential return to lockdown,” Robertson said.

(Graphic: Coronavirus: knowns and unknowns – https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS-UNKNOWNS/0100B5M447T/index.html)

(Graphic: Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus – https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-MAP/0100B59S39E/index.html

New Zealand, with a population of just over 5 million, has reported fewer cases than other nations following its tough lockdown regime, but, again like others, has had to balance the economic impacts of the shutdown.

Several countries, including Britain, India and Australia, have extended social distancing policies over the past week, while others, such as Singapore and Japan, have reintroduced lockdowns after being hit by a second wave of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; editing by Jane Wardell)