New Zealand has admitted its ambitious ‘Covid zero’ elimination strategy may no longer be viable on Sunday, as an outbreak of the virulent Delta variant continues to spread.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins reported another 21 cases in a cluster of viruses that emerged in Auckland last week, ending a six-month streak with no local cases and triggering a nationwide lockdown.
Hipkins said Delta’s highly communicable nature made this outbreak more difficult to contain than others, raising “big questions” about the elimination strategy.
“The extent of infectivity and the speed at which the virus has spread is something that, despite all the best preparations in the world, has put a strain on our system,” he told TVNZ.
New Zealand’s widely hailed Covid-19 response – which has resulted in just 26 deaths in a population of five million – focuses on removing the virus from the community.
It has relied on strict border controls backed by tight lockdowns when cases slip, but Hipkins said Delta could force a redesign.
“(Delta) like nothing we’ve dealt with before in this pandemic,” he said.
“It changes everything, it means that all of our existing preparations are starting to look less adequate and raise very big questions about the future of our long term plans. “
Neighboring Australia has also pursued a ‘zero Covid’ strategy and has also been frustrated as its Delta cases continue to climb.
New Zealand’s outbreak has underscored the slow rollout of vaccination in the country and sparked accusations that the government has become lax after its initial successes in the face of the pandemic.
Only about 20 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in the developed world.
National Opposition Party spokesman Chris Bishop said the outbreak revealed a lack of urgency in Wellington’s vaccination plans.
“The government’s complacency and inability to secure the supply and delivery of the vaccine made us all seated ducks, completely vulnerable to the Delta variant when it inevitably entered the community,” he said. declared.
Another opposition figure, ACT Party Leader David Seymour, said Hipkins could not use the Delta variant as an excuse for the current failures.
“We’ve known Delta since December, what’s he doing in the meantime? He asked.
Hipkins said elimination remained the top priority for the ongoing Delta outbreak, which now has 71 active cases – 65 of them in Auckland and six in Wellington.
The national lockdown is due to expire on Tuesday evening, although Hipkins has indicated Auckland could face further restrictions even if they are lifted elsewhere.
“If I were an Aucklander, I would definitely prepare to stay home a little longer,” he said.
© 2021 AFP