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New Zealand’s 'Elimination Strategy' Tested as It Extends National COVID-19 Lockdown

A COVID-19 lockdown remains in place in Wellington, Aug. 20, 2021.
A COVID-19 lockdown remains in place in Wellington, Aug. 20, 2021.

Government minister in New Zealand Chris Hipkins admitted that the country’s “elimination” approach to achieve a “COVID zero” status may no longer be viable as the delta variant is proving difficult to control.

The government in Wellington has extended a nationwide lockdown until at least Friday and 107 infections have been detected so far. Stay-at-home orders in the city of Auckland — the center of the outbreak — are to remain until at least August 31.

New Zealand has been imposing lockdowns at the first sign of an outbreak implementing a strategy to “crush” COVID-19 and curb the spread of the virus. It also closed its borders to most foreign nationals in March 2020, and returning citizens are subject to strict quarantine controls. The country has tried keep the pandemic at bay and earned the name “Fortress New Zealand” due to the strategy. However, the government is now admitting there are cracks in the country’s approach in combatting the pandemic.

Health officials have linked the delta variant outbreak to a traveler who returned from the Australian state of New South Wales on August 7.

Hipkins told a local TV station TVNZ on Sunday that eliminating the virus would be a difficult task.

“Delta does raise some big questions that we’re going to have to grapple with, you know, less than a 24-hour period for someone getting it and passing it on to others that’s like nothing we’ve dealt with in this pandemic so far, and it does change everything. It does mean that all of our existing protections start to look less adequate and less robust as a result of that. So, we are looking very closely at what more we can do there, but, yes, it does raise some pretty big questions about what the long-term future of our plans are,” Hipkins said.

Australia is also moving away from its long-held elimination strategy. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned that people would have to learn to live with the virus. But he said lockdowns would continue until at least 70% of the population was fully vaccinated. So far, just under a third of Australians have received two doses.

A night-time curfew in virus-hit parts of Sydney began Monday as delta variant infections increase in Australia’s biggest city. Masks are now mandatory for all residents outdoors. The police have been given greater powers to lock down apartment blocks, and order people to isolate for 14 days if they break any restrictions.

New South Wales and Victoria — Australia’s most populous states — are in lockdown, along with the national capital, Canberra.

New Zealand has recorded about 3,000 coronavirus cases and 26 deaths since the pandemic began.

Australia has reported 44,000 infections and 981 deaths, according to the country’s health department.