The emergence of the delta variant, a particularly contagious strain of coronavirus, and the vaccination against Covid-19 have prompted the New Zealand authorities to review their strategy in fighting the pandemic.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledged on Monday that the archipelago’s “zero COVID” strategy had failed to stem the spread of the virus in Auckland and that a new approach was needed.
For months, the country has been shielded from the pandemic, in part due to strict border measures that have allowed New Zealanders to enjoy a near-normal life. But after a delta-type case of coronavirus emerged in Auckland in August, containment measures had to be put in place.
“It’s clear we haven’t reached level zero.”
Two million residents were confined in the country’s largest city for seven weeks, while the national lockdown was lifted in early September. Jacinda Ardern admitted that the highly contagious delta variant is a game-changer that cannot be eradicated.
“Even with the long-term restrictions that we have imposed, it is clear that we have not reached the zero level,” she lamented.
Jacinda Ardern has announced that she will not immediately abandon her strategy to eliminate Covid, but that Auckland’s containment will be eased even if the number of new cases does not decrease. She added that this change – a major development from its “zero Covid” goal – was made possible by the sharp increase in the number of people vaccinated.
“Elimination of the virus is important because we didn’t have a vaccine, and now we have a vaccine, so we can start changing the way we do things,” she told reporters.
27 dead in the archipelago since the beginning of the epidemic
Auckland will remain confined but the government will consider every week the possibility of lifting some measures. City residents will be able to meet outdoors in groups of up to 10 people starting Wednesday and measures such as reopening shops and schools will be considered in the coming weeks.
Opposition leader Judith Collins criticized Jacinda Ardern, saying it was just a “vague list of intent” and not a coherent strategy to replace the “zero Covid” goal. The archipelago, with a population of five million, has recorded only 27 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
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