(Wellington) New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern defended her zero-COVID-19 strategy on Thursday as the spread of the Delta variant undermines the effectiveness of a previously successful policy.
Posted on Aug 26, 2021 at 8:02 am
A case of the much more contagious variant was discovered last week in Auckland, which ended six months with no local contamination.
This infection has led to the country’s largest outbreak since the pandemic began, with a total of 277 registered cases on Thursday.
Ms. Ardern said the Delta variant could be eradicated in her country and stated that experts advised her to stick with an elimination approach.
“From her point of view, it is not only possible, but also the best strategy, and I totally agree,” she said on Thursday, announcing 68 new cases.
A debate has opened in New Zealand about the relevance of this “zero COVID-19” strategy, which is to close borders, limit contact cases, track and test until the virus is completely eradicated in the territory.
COVID-19 Minister Chris Hipkins admitted the situation raises “big questions” about the effectiveness of the strategy.
In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week called the strategy “just absurd” and added, “New Zealand can’t”.
Australia has been pursuing the same goal of zero COVID-19 for 18 months, but given the Delta variant outbreaks, some officials are now talking more about containing the outbreak than eliminating it.
Ms. Ardern assured her that she was “not concerned” by these questions and highlighted the success of New Zealand’s anti-COVID-19 policy, which has recorded only 26 coronavirus deaths in a population of 5 million.
“We wanted to save lives and we did that, we wanted people to live their lives as normally as possible, and we had shorter embargo periods than any other country,” she hammered.
“And we wanted to save jobs and the economy, with an economy able to maintain pre-COVID-19 levels, and we did that too.”
The New Zealand Prime Minister estimated that alternative measures could be considered if they improve the vaccination rate, which is currently among the lowest in developed countries, where around 20% of the population is fully vaccinated.
“Nobody wants to have endless sentences and that is not our intention […] But for now, elimination is the goal as long as we vaccinate and we can get there, ”she said.