New Zealand will abandon its strategy of completely eliminating covid-19 from the country, adopting a new policy of learning to live with the virus and trying to achieve high vaccination rates, according to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at a press conference on Monday.
“Even with the long-term restrictions we’ve had, we patently haven’t reached zero,” Ardern said at a regular daily press conference that’s livestreamed on YouTube.
“Elimination was important because we didn’t have vaccines. Now we do, so we can begin to change the way we do things. We have more options and there’s good cause for us to feel optimistic about the future. But we cannot rush,” Ardern said.
“That’s why we need to continue to contain and control the virus as much as possible while we make our transition from a place where we only use heavy restrictions to a place where we use vaccines in everyday public health measures,” Ardern continued, laying out the path forward for New Zealand.
The city of Auckland, the country’s largest, has been in hard lockdown since August 17 when a single mystery case was detected. That lone case of covid-19 quickly turned into dozens each day, and while most New Zealanders supported the lockdown when they assumed it would last a few weeks, those weeks have stretched into months.
People in Auckland have been living under restrictions that only allow them to leave to buy food, go to the pharmacy or doctor, exercise outdoors, and get vaccinated against covid-19. Restrictions in Auckland are scheduled to be relaxed tomorrow, with outdoor gatherings from multiple households allowed, and most retailers expected to open back up a week or two after that, but Ardern warned many restrictions will stay in place until the country achieves high vaccination rates above 90% of the eligible population.
New Zealand was slow to roll out covid-19 vaccines, leaving it behind most other wealthy countries in that respect. But there wasn’t a sense of urgency to get vaccinated since the entire country was living like it was 2019, virus free. Just 48% of New Zealanders 12 years and older have been fully vaccinated, while 79% have received at least one dose, according to the country’s Ministry of Health website.
New Zealand, a country of five million, has reported just 4,382 cases and 27 deaths from the disease since the start of the pandemic. And the priority is to now keep case numbers low while slowing opening up the country to things like international travel, according to Prime Minister Ardern. Air New Zealand announced over the weekend that it would require all international visitors to be fully vaccinated against covid-19 in order to board its planes and New Zealand is expected to resume international travel in early 2022.
As recently as a few months ago, there were at least seven countries still pursuing the “covid-zero” strategy of complete elimination, including New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China. But the Delta variant of covid-19 has forced most jurisdictions to reevaluate whether elimination is possible.
Ironically, China is still pursuing a covid-zero strategy despite being the place where the coronavirus originated. China reported 42 new covid-19 cases on Monday, though 15 of those were asymptomatic cases, which the government doesn’t count as “real” cases. In a nation of 1.4 billion people, dozens of new coronavirus cases each day is the rough equivalent of covid-zero.
Some westerners are skeptical of China’s official covid-19 numbers, but the country has employed one tool that most other countries have not used to defeat the disease: mass testing. When mystery cases of covid-19 pop up, China has sometimes tested entire cities, getting swabs from millions of people in just a week. The Chinese government might be massaging the official numbers of cases and deaths, but it’s extremely difficult to hide a covid-19 outbreak once cases grow exponentially. The most logical explanation is that China is using mass testing as a way to keep covid-19 under control.
Mass testing was discussed as a possibility by U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci but was abandoned when the Trump regime actively started undermining public health measures that allowed the virus to flourish. Frustratingly, former President Donald Trump has never paid any real price for allowing millions of people to get sick and hundreds of thousands to die on his watch.
Hong Kong reported zero new covid-19 cases on Sunday and has seen just 12,226 covid-19 cases and 213 deaths since the pandemic began. Despite a recent crackdown on the region by Beijing, the semi-autonomous territory still handles its own borders and covid-19 prevention procedures.
Importantly, Taiwan’s latest surge in cases that lasted from late May until the end of June was not the Delta strain of the virus, which leads one to wonder how the country will manage a future outbreak with the more contagious strain. At its peak, Taiwan reported 670 cases of covid-19 on May 27 before cases started to recede again through lockdowns, testing, and contact tracing. Cases currently average about 9 per day in Taiwan.
Will China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan be able to escape the fate of New Zealand, surrendering to covid-19 despite getting so very close to elimination? Only time will tell. But you can’t help but root for their success from afar. Each country seems like a time capsule from 2019 at this point.