Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledged on Monday that New Zealand’s widely praised “Covid zero” strategy has failed to contain a stubborn outbreak in Auckland and said a new approach was needed.
The radical eradication policy largely saved the country from the pandemic, with residents enjoying normal home life along with tighter restrictions on international borders.
But the August outbreak prompted a seven-week lockdown in its main population center that has failed to curb infection rates.
Ardern said the highly permeable Delta version had proved to be a “game-changer” that could not be eliminated.
“Even with the long ban we have in place, we have clearly not reached zero,” she said.
Ardern said she would not immediately abandon the elimination strategy, but that lockdown restrictions would be eased slightly in Auckland, even if the number of new cases had not decreased.
He said the change – a major change from his previous goal of completely eliminating the virus – was possible as vaccination rates increased dramatically.
“Elimination was important because we didn’t have vaccines, now we do, so we can start to change the way we do things,” she told reporters.
Auckland will remain in lockdown for the time being but the government will conduct weekly reviews to re-introduce independence from time to time.
City residents can meet outside in groups of up to 10 from Wednesday and steps such as reopening shops and schools will be considered in the coming weeks.
The rest of the country was allowed out of lockdown in early September.
Before Auckland’s outbreak, New Zealand’s eradication strategy was widely praised by bodies such as the World Health Organization, with only 27 deaths in a population of five million.
Opposition leader Judith Collins said Ardern had offered only a “vague wish list” that failed to outline a coherent plan to replace the “Covid zero” approach.
(This story has not been edited by NB staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)