It was a much-anticipated milestone likely hastened by COVID-19: New Zealand has reached a population of 5 million people, after citizens and residents rushed home when borders began to close due to the pandemic.
New Zealand grew from 4 million to 5 million in 17 years, the quickest rate of growth in the nation’s modern history, Statistics New Zealand said.
Migration has been the chief driver for the population of the island-nation, which increased by half a million people in the past six years alone.
“The global COVID-19 pandemic has caused unusual international travel and migration patterns in recent months,” Statistics New Zealand spokesperson Brooke Theyers said. “Net migration has been boosted by more New Zealand citizens returning home after living overseas.”
At the same time, New Zealanders have likely been “unable or reluctant” to head offshore, she added.
The government has drawn global praise for its handling of COVID-19, which has resulted in 21 deaths and fewer than 1,500 cases.
On March 18, the government urged the 80,000 New Zealanders overseas to return home, adding that the window to travel was closing rapidly. People who are not citizens or residents of the country — or their immediate family — are not currently permitted to enter New Zealand under COVID-19 border controls.
The country was expected to hit a population of 5 million at about the middle of this year, the Guardian reported in November last year.
Statistics New Zealand said the milestone was reached by March 31, with a total of 5,002,100 people recorded.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has often referred to the nation’s “team of 5 million,” as she attempted to unite the nation behind strict COVID-19 lockdown rules.
Announcing the news, New Zealand Minister for Statistic James Shaw said the nation “now officially has 5 million members.”
New Zealand’s population initially grew slowly, the Guardian reported in a series on the nation’s demographics last year. It reached 1 million by 1911, topped 2 million in 1956, 3 million in 1976 and 4 million in 2006, driven largely by natural growth. However, since the turn of the century, a significant rise in immigration had changed that, Massey University professor Paul Spoonley said.
It was “one of the most dramatic demographic transitions that we’ve seen really anywhere” and had occurred “without major social conflict,” Spoonley said.
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