New Zealand is on lockdown to contain Delta's spread

AUCKLAND, New Zealand – When New Zealand , for the first time in months, reported a case of community spread of the coronavirus on Augus...


AUCKLAND, New Zealand – When New Zealand, for the first time in months, reported a case of community spread of the coronavirus on August 17, residents took action. They stripped supermarket shelves of pasta and toilet paper, took out masks from drawers and fled to vacation homes in the mountains or on the beach.

Hours later, the expected announcement arrived: the country, after just one case of the Delta variant, would plunge into a very restrictive three-day lockdown. New Zealand, one of the last countries to pursue ‘Covid zero’, is said to aim to wipe out the virus again, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a press conference that day.

“Although we know that Delta is a more dangerous enemy to fight,” she said, “the same actions that defeated the virus last year can be applied to defeat it”.

Two weeks later, New Zealand is still on lockdown, which will last at least an additional 14 days. One case has grown to nearly 700, with nearly three dozen requiring hospitalization. And the familiar playbook that made New Zealand an envied role model throughout the pandemic is struggling to contain a much more contagious variant of the virus.

“The challenge is to eliminate Delta,” said Rodney Jones, the New Zealand government adviser on the pandemic. “No country has eliminated Delta.”

For now, New Zealand appears almost united behind efforts to try, with high lockdown compliance and strong trust in public health officials. But Ms Ardern and other leaders have started to recognize that New Zealand may eventually need to change course as the virus continues to spread – 75 new cases were reported on Wednesday, up from around 50 each of the previous two days – and its vaccination campaign lags.

That would mean tolerating some spread of the virus to keep society more open, a strategy pursued to varying degrees in nearly all developed countries.

While China has signaled a long-term commitment to a Covid-zero approach, the Delta variant has already culled such virus elimination plans in Singapore, Hong Kong and several other places in the Asia region. -Peaceful. New Zealand leaders are watching closely neighboring Australia, where, after nearly two months in lockdown, the state of New South Wales is now reporting more than 1,000 cases a day.

Until July, Australia had not recorded any deaths from Covid in 2021, and it had quelled every small outbreak of infections. Now its Prime Minister Scott Morrison has completely disowned the virus elimination approach.

“Any state and territory that thinks it can protect itself from Covid with the Delta strain forever is just nonsense,” he said last week. “New Zealand can’t do this. They were following an elimination strategy. They are in confinement. “

Australia is looking to vaccinate its way to relative safety, focusing on areas hard hit by the Delta variant. This option is not available for New Zealand, which administered the fewest doses per capita of all developed countries.

The country does not have place your first vaccine order until the end of January, when he bought 65,520 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the only vaccine he uses. By this point, the United States had administered approximately 50 million doses of the vaccine.

New Zealand, a country of nearly five million people, fired the first shots at about 45 percent of the population; less than 25 percent of residents are fully immunized. The country has increased vaccine distribution since the start of the new outbreak, but Ms Ardern warned this week that the effort may have to be slowed down again without more supplies from Pfizer.

The government has said it does not have to rush the vaccine approval and procurement process because of its success in containing the virus. With a combination of closed borders and rapid lockdowns, it has kept the total number of cases below 3,500 and the death toll at 26. And for most of the past 18 months, residents have lived with few restrictions. .

But members of the political opposition argued the government left the population vulnerable as the Delta variant began to circulate around the world. New Zealand had been at risk of an outbreak for some time, with Delta accounting for the majority of cases in its border quarantine facilities for months. The current outbreak has been linked to a New Zealander who flew from Sydney, Australia, and was put in isolation after testing positive for the variant.

“We have been sitting ducks for Delta,” said Christopher Bishop, a National Party lawmaker who speaks for the opposition on Covid-19 policy. “We knew it was going to happen here and it would wreak havoc when it did find its way into the community, and that’s exactly what happened.”

Yet critical voices like Bishop’s remain in the minority in New Zealand. Ms Ardern’s Labor government is one of the most popular in the country, winning a huge majority in the general election last year. New Zealand’s top health official, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, has achieved rock star status and has been widely credited with keeping the “Five Million Team” safe.

Although New Zealand is earlier in its lockdown, it has yet to experience the lockdown fatigue that has troubled lawmakers in states in New South Wales or Victoria in Australia. This in part reflects the public’s confidence in Dr Bloomfield as an expert who can pull New Zealand out of its Covid problems.

“He not only has a public profile, but a cult-like audience,” said Ben Thomas, a New Zealand political commentator and former National Party staff member. “The country has a huge sort of parasocial devotion to it, which is very new to New Zealand. “

Despite the high costs of the lockdown, which has shut down most businesses and confined all but essential workers to their homes, it is worth pushing for the virus to be eliminated for as long as possible, epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said. at University. from Otago in New Zealand.

“I am very confident that we will eradicate this epidemic and return to elimination status,” said Professor Baker, who encouraged the government early on to adopt the Covid-zero approach. The debate on next steps can take place later, he added. “I have often presented it as New Zealand keeping their options open,” he said.

Neither option, Ms. Ardern swore, goes in and out of the perpetual lockdown.

“Delta changed the rules of the game, and that’s why we changed our game plan,” she said at a press conference last week. “No one wants to use locks forever. And I can tell you now, that is not our intention.

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Newsrust - US Top News: New Zealand is on lockdown to contain Delta's spread
New Zealand is on lockdown to contain Delta's spread
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