Monday’s acknowledgment by New Zealand’s government was a sign that the coronavirus cannot be completely eliminated.
Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, announced a cautious plan for easing lockdown restrictions in Auckland despite the ongoing outbreak.
New Zealand has been pursuing a unique zero-tolerance policy to the virus since the outbreak. This includes strict lockdowns, aggressive contact tracing and strict lockdowns.
This elimination strategy was remarkably successful for a country of 5,000,000, with only 27 reported deaths.
While others faced increasing death tolls or disrupted lives in other countries, New Zealanders returned to their workplaces, school yards, and sports stadiums unaffected by any community spread.
However, the contagious variant of the delta virus was able to escape from quarantine in August. It had been brought into the country by a traveler from Australia.
Even though New Zealand was placed in the most severe form of lockdown following the detection of a single case, it wasn’t enough for the entire outbreak to be stopped.
One possibility is that the disease spread to other groups, such as gang members or homeless people in transitional housing.
There are now more than 1,300 confirmed cases. 29 additional cases were reported on Monday. A few cases were found outside Auckland.
Ardern stated that the outbreak was controlled by seven weeks of lockdown in Auckland.
Ardern stated that “for this outbreak, it is clear that long periods with heavy restrictions have not brought us to zero cases.” But that’s okay. We didn’t have vaccines so elimination was crucial. We now have vaccines, and we can change how we do things.
New Zealand’s vaccination campaign began slowly in comparison to other developed countries. After the outbreak, rates rose dramatically in August. However, they have declined significantly since then.
Around 65% of New Zealanders have received at least one dose, and 40% are fully vaccinated. About 79% of people aged 12 and over have received at least one jab.
Ardern’s plan, which begins Tuesday, will allow Aucklanders to meet outside with their loved ones from other households. Early childhood centers will reopen, and people can go to the beach.
It is still not clear when the phases of a gradual reopening will take place, first in bars and then in restaurants and shops.
Ardern stated that the elimination strategy had been extremely successful for the country, but that the government always intended to transition to vaccine protection. This was made possible by the “game changer” delta variant.
Although the government’s elimination strategy was widely supported by New Zealanders, it was being criticized more and more. Hundreds of protestors marched to the lockdown over the weekend.
Chris Bishop, an opposition lawmaker, stated that the government did not have a clear strategy for dealing with the outbreak except total surrender.
Ardern stated that the majority of measures to control the outbreak would be in place, including extensive contact tracing and isolation of those infected.
Ardern stated that there is good reason to be optimistic about the future. “But we can’t rush.”