New Zealand drops 'Covid Zero' goal after game-changer Delta variant

An August outbreak in New Zealand prompted a seven-week lockdown in its main population centre that has failed to curb infection rates
Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand
Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand

Wellington

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admitted Monday that NewZealand's widely praised "Covid zero" strategy had failed to halt astubborn outbreak in Auckland and said a new approach was needed.

The hardline elimination policy had largely protected thecountry from the pandemic, with residents enjoying a near-normal domestic lifealongside tight restrictions on international borders.

But an August outbreak prompted a seven-week lockdown in itsmain population centre that has failed to curb infection rates.

Ardern said the highly transmissible Delta variant hadproved a "game-changer" that could not be eliminated.

"Even with the long-term restrictions we've had, wepatently haven't reached zero," she added.

Ardern said she would not immediately dump the eliminationstrategy but lockdown restrictions in Auckland would be eased slightly, eventhough new case numbers have not fallen.

She added that the change -- a major shift to her previousgoal of completely stamping out the virus -- was possible because vaccinationrates had increased dramatically.

"Elimination was important because we didn't havevaccines, now we do, so we can begin to change the way we do things," shetold reporters.

Auckland will remain in lockdown for now but the governmentwill conduct weekly reviews to time the reintroduction of freedoms. City residents can meet outdoors in groups of up to 10 fromWednesday and steps such as reopening shops and schools will be considered inthe coming weeks.

The rest of the country was allowed out of lockdown in earlySeptember. Before the Auckland outbreak, New Zealand's eliminationstrategy was widely lauded by bodies such at the World Health Organization,with just 27 deaths in a population of five million

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