New Zealand did not consider its ambitious “Zero Zero” eradication strategy feasible on Sunday as the Delta virus spread further.
Covid 19 Response Minister Chris Hopkins reported 21 more cases in a virus cluster that surfaced in Auckland last week, ending six months without a local case and triggering a national lockdown.
Hopkins said the highly transitory nature of the delta is making the epidemic more difficult than others, raising “big questions” about the eradication strategy.
“The scale of the infection and the rate at which the virus has spread is something that has put our system under pressure despite all the best preparations in the world,” he told TVNZ.
New Zealand’s widely acclaimed Covid 19 response – resulting in only 26 deaths out of a population of five million – is focused on eradicating the virus from the community.
It has relied on strict border controls through tight lockdowns when any issue passes, but Hopkins said Delta may be forced to reconsider.
“(Delta) as we have never done before in this epidemic,” he said.
“It all changes, which means that all of our current preparations seem less appropriate and raise some big questions about the future of our long-term plans.”
Neighboring Australia has also adopted the “Quaid Zero” strategy and is similarly disappointed as its delta cases continue to grow.
The New Zealand epidemic has highlighted the country’s slow vaccination rollout and sparked accusations that the government has faltered after its initial success in tackling the epidemic.
Only 20% of the population is fully vaccinated, the lowest rate in the developed world.
Opposition National Party spokesman Chris Bishop said the outbreak had exposed Wellington’s lack of urgency in vaccine plans.
“The government’s dissatisfaction and failure to ensure the delivery and supply of vaccines has completely weakened all of us sitting ducks when it inevitably enters the community,” he said.
Another opposition figure, ACT Party leader David Seymour, said Hopkins could not use the Delta format as an excuse for current failures.
“We’ve known about Delta since December. What has he been doing in the meantime?” He asked.
Hopkins said elimination was a top priority for the ongoing Delta outbreak, which now has a total of 72 active cases – 66 in Auckland and six in Wellington.
Positive cases have been recorded in many busy locations, including schools, churches and supermarkets, where health teams check the condition of about 9,000 close contacts.
The national lockdown is set to end on Tuesday, although Hopkins indicated that Auckland could face further sanctions if they were lifted elsewhere.
“If I were Auckland, I would definitely be preparing to stay home for a while,” he said.
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