In the News: Will Delta derail New Zealand’s ‘Zero Covid’ strategy?

Highly contagious variant continues to spread across country, testing policy to limit

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, holding  map of New Zealand outbreaks. Photograph: Robert Kitchin/Pool Photo via AP

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, holding map of New Zealand outbreaks. Photograph: Robert Kitchin/Pool Photo via AP


One week ago, on August 17th, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced the country was going into strict lockdown after the first coronavirus case in six months was reported in the city of Auckland.

Ms Ardern urged New Zealanders to adhere to the lockdown rules to stop the spread of the virus, reassuring people that “we have been here before” and “we know the elimination strategy works”.

Up until recently, New Zealand’s zero Covid response to the pandemic had been lauded as the best in the world. But as the highly contagious Delta variant continues to spread across the country, with 41 new positive Covid cases reported on Tuesday bringing to 148 the total number of infections during this outbreak, officials are saying total elimination may no longer be possible.

New Zealand’s Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said at the weekend that the spread of Delta made the country’s existing protections “look less adequate and less robust”. However, Ms Ardern said this week she would stick by the elimination strategy while announcing that the country’s nationwide level 4 lockdown measures would continue until the end of this week.

Meanwhile, Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison said it was “absurd” for regions like New Zealand to continue chasing total elimination of the virus and that remaining cut off from the rest of the world was like living in a “cave”.

The New Zealand government has also been criticised for its slow vaccination rollout – to date just 20 per cent of the country’s 5.1 million people have been fully vaccinated.

Cathy O’Sullivan, who lives in Auckland and is Director of Digital News at New Zealand’s NewsHub media platform, told presenter Sorcha Pollak that even though people are frustrated about going back into lockdown, they remain determined to crush the latest outbreak through restrictions on movement.

“Most people agree that the best option is to go hard now and relax later if it turns out we’ve avoided the worst. But we know with Delta there really are no second chances,” Ms O’Sullivan told In the News.

Nevertheless, there is a growing acknowledgment among New Zealanders that the country needs to reopen its borders soon and is not “some kind of magical state” which can repel Covid, said Ms O’Sullivan. “People are keen to reconnect with the world.”

In the News is presented by reporters Sorcha Pollak and Conor Pope.

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