New Zealand’s government has now given up on its Zero Covid strategy after continued strict lockdowns failed to completely get rid of the coronavirus.
Since the beginning of the Covid crisis, New Zealand adopted an ‘Elimination Strategy’ which the authorities described as “a sustained approach to keep it out, find it and stamp it out”. That meant strict lockdowns and aggressive contact tracing – and it also meant a period of isolation from the rest of the world which critics said would seriously damage the economy.
While Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won praise from many quarters for the ‘Zero Covid’ strategy, some commentators posited that the country was simply postponing the crisis to when the country inevitably opened up. While New Zealanders enjoyed being able to return to workplaces, stadiums and concerts ahead of most of the rest of the world, experts warned that once the country’s borders opened up Covid would make its way in.
Previously, Professor Graham Le Gros, of the country’s Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, said: “When faced with this Covid-19 Delta virus, the border controls and restrictions we have in place just cannot contain it.”
“It would be foolish to think that New Zealand could pursue a long-term strategy of border control and contact tracing and elimination to keep out SARS-CoV-2”, he said. “It’s a virus, they are built to adapt and change and evolve,” he added.
In August, despite the Zero Covid strategy, contagious delta variant somehow escaped from a quarantine facility in August after it was brought into the country from a traveler returning from Australia. That outbreak has grown to more than 1,300 cases, and protests against the lockdown have grown in the country.
Now, Arden has announced a cautious plan to ease lockdown restrictions in Auckland.
“For this outbreak, it’s clear that long periods of heavy restrictions has not got us to zero cases,” the Prime Minister said. “But that is OK. Elimination was important because we didn’t have vaccines. Now we do, so we can begin to change the way we do things.”
New Zealand began its vaccination campaign slowly compared to most other developed nations. Rates rocketed in August after the outbreak began but have dropped off significantly again since then.
About 65% of New Zealanders have had at least one dose and 40% are fully vaccinated. Among people age 12 and older, about 79% have had at least a single jab.
Under Ardern’s plan that starts Tuesday, Aucklanders will be able to meet outdoors with loved ones from one other household, early childhood centers will reopen and people will be able to go to the beach.
The dates for a phased reopening of retail stores and later bars and restaurants have yet to be decided.
Ardern said the elimination strategy had served the country incredibly well but the government always intended to eventually transition to the protection of vaccines, a change hastened by the delta variant “game changer.”
The government’s elimination approach had been broadly supported by New Zealanders but was facing increasing criticism. Over the weekend, hundreds of people turned out to rallies protesting the lockdown.
Opposition lawmaker Chris Bishop said the government had no clear strategy to deal with the outbreak other than total surrender, Associated Press reported.
In Ireland, a Zero covid policy was pushed by the ISAG group which was criticised after Gript revealed members to “look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety, and uncertainty.”