NEW ZEALAND: New Zealand abandoned its long-standing zero-Covid strategy on Monday, and will instead look to live with the virus and control its spread as its vaccination rates rise.
New Zealand became the latest country to abandon its elimination attempts in the face of the highly contagious Delta variant, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s announcement on Monday in a news conference.
The Pacific nation was among just a handful of countries to bring COVID-19 cases down to zero last year and largely stayed virus-free until an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant in mid-August frustrated efforts to reconsider the zero-Covid strategy.
“With this outbreak and Delta the return to zero is incredibly difficult,” the prime minister told a news conference in a major policy shift.
“This is a change in approach we were always going to make over time. Our Delta outbreak has accelerated this transition. Vaccines will support it,” she said. Ardern didn’t say exactly when the transition from the zero-Covid strategy would begin, but she emphasized the country was “not there yet.”
Ardern admitted the virus was “a tentacle that has been incredibly hard to shake.”
After shutting its borders early in the pandemic, New Zealand has reported just 4,409 Covid-19 infections and 27 deaths, after shutting its borders early in the pandemic — making the lowest case numbers of any country.
But the Delta outbreak in August plunged the major city of Auckland into a long lockdown. Ardern said the lockdown affecting 1.7 million people in the biggest city Auckland will be scaled back in phases, with some freedoms introduced from Wednesday.
Amid mounting pressure, Ardern has said her strategy was never to have zero cases, but to aggressively stamp out the virus. She said strict lockdowns will end once 90% of the eligible population is vaccinated.
At least 49% of the country has been fully vaccinated, while 79% have had their first dose, according to New Zealand’s Health Ministry.
Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, Ardern said New Zealanders would require vaccine certificates to access public events such as music festivals and other large gatherings, from as early as next month.
“If you are booked for a summer festival, this is a warning or a heads up, go and get vaccinated,” she said.