Delta variant worries New Zealand and its zero Covid strategy

New Zealand acknowledged on Sunday August 22 that its zero Covid strategy was threatened by the spread of a coronavirus epidemic due to the Delta variant.

” The [Delta] is unlike anything we have known since the start of the pandemic ”, argued the Minister in charge of the Fight against Covid-19, Chris Hipkins. “It changes everything, it means that all our existing measures seem less suitable and it raises questions about the future of our long-term strategy”, he added.

He reported 21 new cases linked to the outbreak that appeared last week in Auckland. The first locally-sourced case of contamination in six months has led to national containment. Mr Hipkins said this outbreak was much more difficult to contain than previous ones because the Delta variant is highly more contagious.

“Its high contagiousness and the speed at which the virus has spread are things that, although we have taken the best prevention measures in the world, have put a strain on our system”, did he declare.

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A slow and criticized vaccination campaign

New Zealand has been praised abroad for its effective management of the Covid-19 epidemic which, so far, has only killed 26 people for a population of five million. The archipelago has implemented strict border controls and decreed confinements as soon as local cases appear. Neighboring Australia is also pursuing a goal “Zero Covid”, compromised since mid-June by a continuous outbreak of coronavirus cases linked to the Delta variant.

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In New Zealand, this epidemic has highlighted the slowness of the vaccination campaign and voices have been raised to criticize the government’s laxity. Only 20% of the population is fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in the developed world.

National Party spokesman Chris Bishop said the new epidemic pointed to the government’s shortcomings in immunization, particularly due to supply difficulties.

Mr Hipkins stressed that elimination remains the top priority as the number of new cases now stands at 71 active cases, including 65 in Auckland and six in Wellington.

National lockdown is due to end Tuesday night but Mr. Hipkins said Auckland could face further restrictions even if lifted elsewhere.

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The World with AFP