Delta outbreak tests New Zealand’s zero Covid

When New Zealand went into lockdown last week over a single Delta case, critics were quick to mock the country’s risk-averse approach.British newspapers didn’t hold back. The Times called New Zealand a “mysterious socialist hermit nation” where the public “languish in a Covid prison,” while The Telegraph slammed a once-welcoming country that had turned into an “isolated dystopia.”The reaction to New Zealand’s approach speaks to a divide on how countries across the world are handling Covid. More than 18 months into the pandemic, some countries, including the United Kingdom, have accepted they may never eliminate the virus — so instead, they’re learning to live with it.

New Zealand, by contrast, is one of the few countries still committed to stamping Covid out.

Hours after confirming the country’s first Delta case in the community, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ordered the entire nation into lockdown, with the backing of a broad consensus across the political spectrum. Ten days later, the outbreak had spread to 347 cases, with one person in intensive care, as of Friday.


“Fortress New Zealand” — with some of the strictest border rules in the world — has been breached.New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talks to the media at a press conference on August 23, 2021 in Wellington, New Zealand. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talks to the media at a press conference on August 23, 2021 in Wellington, New Zealand.That’s prompted questions over whether attempting to eradicate community transmission — known as the zero Covid strategy — still makes sense in a world swamped with the highly contagious Delta variant.For now, Ardern is doubling down on the strategy, even as neighboring Australia edges away from the approach. And for now, it seems the public remain on board — even if it means being a “hermit nation.”But New Zealand’s own Covid-19 response minister has indicated the approach might not last forever. The big question for New Zealand will be what its new strategy might look like.

No urgency to reconnect

Until Delta arrived, New Zealand’s tough border rules had protected it from the turmoil seen in most other countries.For most of the pandemic, the country has essentially operated as normal — sports games, music festivals, public gatherings and dining have all gone ahead in much the same way they would have before the pandemic.So far, New Zealand has recorded just over 3,000 cases and 26 deaths.But the comparatively low death toll has come at a cost. An estimated 1 million New Zealanders live overseas, with nearly 600,000 in Australia, and many of New Zealand’s 5 million residents likely have at least one friend or relative living overseas.Some haven’t seen their loved ones in over a year.

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