- New Zealand has become the latest country to abandon the “zero COVID” strategy, a decision that comes as the delta version of the virus proved too powerful to contain.
- A “zero COVID” policy is one that seeks to eliminate all community transmission of the virus.
- Experts say the highly contagious delta variant makes it difficult.
LONDON – New Zealand has become the latest country to abandon a zero COVID strategy, with the virus proving too difficult to contain, now the highly contagious Delta variant leading the way.
After adopting one of the world’s strictest methods to try to control the spread of COVID-19, New Zealand announced on Monday that the country would no longer pursue an approach that seeks to eliminate all COVID cases. Will do
This zero COVID strategy, also employed by the likes of China and Taiwan, includes strict lockdowns (even after detecting just one or a handful of cases) and widespread testing, highly controlled or closed borders, as well as strong contacts. Tracing system included. Quarantine mandate.
The move comes after a lockdown in the city of Auckland failed to contain the virus in the face of the more virulent Delta version. It is estimated to be 60% more transmissible than the alpha version originally discovered at the end of 2020, and which itself superseded a previous, less infectious version of the virus.
New Zealand has been extremely strict in dealing with COVID; Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern put the entire country under strict lockdown in August After a single suspected case of Covid due to the delta variant – the country’s first coronavirus case in six months at the time – was reported in Auckland.
But on Monday, Ardern said the city’s lockdown would be gradually eased and that the country’s strategy to deal with Covid was changing.
“For this outbreak, it is clear that a long period of heavy restrictions has not got us zero cases,” Ardern said during a news conference. “But that’s okay. Elimination was important because we didn’t have vaccines. Now we do, so we can start to change the way we do things.”
Ardern said it is important that the country maintains strict controls, however, adding that it still “needs to contain and contain the virus as much as possible, while we do our infections from where we only heavy restrictions in place where we use vaccines in everyday public health measures.”
It is the first time that New Zealand has publicly signaled a shift away from a zero COVID strategy, after its neighbor Australia abandoned its zero tolerance, or “Covid zero” approach in early September, saying that It has moved into a state of “learning to live with” virus.
Similarly in New Zealand, Australia decided to abandon the strategy after a strict lockdown in Melbourne to contain the outbreak there.
At the time, Victoria State Premier Daniel Andrews said that “we have thrown everything at it, but it is now clear to us that we are not going to reduce these numbers, they are going to increase.”
Experts are not surprised by the change in strategy, noting that the spread of the delta variant makes such an approach redundant.
“It is no surprise that New Zealand have left their ‘zero’ covid’ strategy – the highly permeable delta variant has changed the game and means that an elimination strategy is no longer viable,” Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, told CNBC Monday .
“This does not mean that New Zealand and Australia’s strong approach to managing the pandemic – strict border restrictions, quarantine measures and strong contact tracing – is not effective, but that continued heavy restrictions are harmful to individuals and society,” he said.
He said zero-tolerance policies will get tougher as the rest of the world opens up, but he insisted that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be cautious. “We need to stop the virus from spreading and changing by doing everything we can to support the global roll out of vaccines.”
Attempts to completely suppress the spread of COVID-19 have often been questioned by experts, but in countries where vaccination rollouts have been slow, lockdowns have slowed, if not eradicated, the spread of the virus.
Defending the Auckland lockdown on Monday, Ardern said pursuing a zero COVID strategy was the “right choice and the only option” for Auckland, while vaccination rates were low, with only 25% of Aucklanders fully vaccinated at the time Was.
Now, seven weeks later, she said 52% of Aucklanders had been fully vaccinated, with 84% receiving a single dose. Clinical data shows that complete vaccination against COVID-19 is highly effective in protecting people from severe COVID infection, hospitalization and death.
Zero COVID strategies remain in place in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, however, none of them are showing signs of giving up yet. Other Asian economies have taken a similar approach, including Macau, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam.
The data shows that this strategy has helped keep cases and deaths far lower in the region than in Europe and the US.
Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center said on Monday that Zero new local cases of Kovid-19 and five imported cases, marking the fourth consecutive day without local infection.
same day, Four new cases were also reported in Hong Kong (all imported, Continuing the trend seen in recent weeks), while 26 new cases of infection were reported in China on Monday, again, all of them are cited as imported cases, although the accuracy of China’s data during the pandemic has been questioned.
Experts in the field say there is good reason not to abandon zero-Covid strategies just yet, especially when vaccination rates are low.
David Hui, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who leads a expert committee who advises the government, told CNBC that Hong Kong will not reconsider its zero-tolerance COVID-19 strategy to “live with the virus” until vaccination rates become higher.
“Unlike Singapore, [the] In the UK and other Western countries, the overall vaccination rate in Hong Kong is too low to adopt to live with the virus (67% with one dose and 62.9% of the population fully vaccinated with two doses). The vaccination rate in people aged 70 years or less is around 30%,” he said.
“If we live with the virus, many elderly unvaccinated people will develop serious illness and our health system will collapse.”
The Economist Intelligence Unit noted in a report in July that it expects zero-Covid markets in Asia to maintain stringent border controls through 2021, only to be loosened if mass vaccinations are received from early 2022.
“Deaths in ‘zero COVID’ countries in Asia are much lower than global peers and the economic impact is less severe, contributing to a very shallow recession in Asia in 2020 compared to other regions,” noting, “if Had the rest of the world taken a similar approach, zero-Covid could prove to be a sustainable strategy. However, it has now become a risk that will subside rather than support economic activity once the global economy reopens.”
Even so, the EIU noted, policies eventually adopted by zero-Covid countries will still be more conservative than those implemented in North America and Europe. “This approach is likely to target “less COVID”, with approaches currently being used by Japan and South Korea serving as potential models,” it said.
The European Union believed that China and Taiwan are the economies in the strongest position to maintain a zero-Covid strategy, due to less reliance on cross-border flows of capital and talent.