Less than a month ago, New Zealanders disappeared into their homes, retracting from the public domain like spilled water into a dry sponge. The motorways and city streets stood mostly empty, shops closed, schools and playgrounds were deserted. A single case of the highly contagious Delta variant had been detected and the government called a snap level-4 lockdown, introducing some of the strictest restrictions in the world.
It was a new threat for a country whose Covid-zero pandemic response had been ranked one of the best globally. New Zealand had never faced a Delta outbreak before, and no one knew if its past strategies would prove up to the task.
Across the Tasman, a bleak picture was emerging: Australia, like New Zealand, had maintained a zero-Covid elimination strategy throughout the first year of the pandemic but was now struggling with outbreaks in New South Wales and Victoria. Both countries had less than a third of their total populations immunised. With cases in NSW now regularly hitting more than 1,400 a day, the state provided a stark worst-case scenario of what New Zealand might see.
But now, against all odds, New Zealand is bending the Delta curve.
Its looking very good for ending this outbreak, says Prof Michael Baker, an epidemiologist and public health expert. I wouldnt say absolute certainty, but its now far more a matter of when, rather than if.
Left alone or managed half-heartedly, the Delta variants exponential growth quickly turns a trend line vertical. For many countries in the midst of outbreaks, the goal is to change that precipice to an incline distributing the peak over a longer period so that health systems dont collapse, resulting in needless deaths. In New Zealand, and for a few other Covid-zero Asia-Pacific states, the goal is more ambitious. They aimed to not only ease down the growth line, but to bend the curve completely, forcing case numbers back to zero and wiping out transmission completely. Today, just under a month from when the variant arrived in New Zealand, that goal suddenly looks within reach.
After peaking at the end of August at 83 cases a day, cases have been steadily tracking down daily numbers havent passed 21 over the past week. Midweek, they dropped to 15, and then to 13, then 11. Modellers predict that barring disaster cases should hit single digits next week. Auckland, the centre of the outbreak, remains at alert level 4. But most of the country left a hard lockdown on Wednesday, flocking back to restaurants, cafes and schools.
It hasnt been an easy path. In August, as the outbreak began, Baker told the Guardian it was an infectious disease experts nightmare. Nightclubs, churches, restaurants, hospitals, schools the list of exposure events read like a checklist of every high-infection-risk gathering imaginable.
It also hasnt been a path free of naysayers. Internationally, some parties portrayed the response at first as an overreaction disproportionate to case numbers and later, as case numbers climbed, as a hopeless, futile effort in the face of a variant that had overwhelmed others defences.
Any state and territory that thinks that somehow they can protect themselves from Covid with the Delta strain forever, thats just absurd, the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, said. New Zealand cant do that. They were following an elimination strategy. Theyre in lockdown.
But New Zealands government has so far been unwavering in its commitment to elimination a strategy that has allowed residents to maintain a life of relative normalcy for most of the past year. The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said: While we know that Delta is a more dangerous enemy to combat, the same actions that overcame the virus last year can be applied to beat it again.
Experts say the same essential toolkit is working.
I think we can say, more or less, that our alert level 4 has got the measure of Delta, says Prof Shaun Hendy, epidemic modeller for research centre Te Pnaha Matatini.
Early on, we were trying to think about how effective alert level 4 would be, and were thinking it could be substantially less effective against Delta over what we saw in the March, April outbreak, he says. But actually its been very similar performance has been helped by the vaccination rates, no doubt. But basically its worked almost as well as it did last year. A couple of weeks on, it does look like were on track to eliminate the outbreak.
Compared to previous outbreaks, this has been an order of magnitude more severe and has really tested our systems, Hendy says. Our systems, you can never say that theyre good enough. But in this case, weve just lifted our game enough that weve brought this under control.
The trajectory of the latest outbreak can also provide a certain amount of reassurance for New Zealand that the countrys go hard and go early strategy can contain a Delta outbreak.
New Zealand also has the opportunity to learn something from Australias experience.
At the moment, I think its a cautionary tale for us, says Dr Siouxsie Wiles, a microbiologist and one of New Zealands central pandemic communicators. They show what happens if you dont control transmission. And I guess what they have shown also is if the virus gets into essential workers and their workplace.
Experts are careful to warn that there is still a long road ahead as well as absolute numbers declining, New Zealand also needs to push up the percentage of cases without exposure events, or that are isolated for the duration of their infectious period. If we see declining numbers but we also have several days seeing no unexpected cases, thats very reassuring, Baker says.
If New Zealand does successfully eliminate the Delta variant, it still raises questions of what next for a country that has used extremely strict border controls to remain Covid-free thus far. The government had released a tentative plan for reopening just days before the outbreak began. But on Wednesday, the Covid-19 response minister, Chris Hipkins, said that might need to be re-evaluated. It would be fair to say that Delta has actually changed some of the thinking about that, even in the last few weeks, he said. Delta has changed the game.
New Zealands elimination strategy means it has avoided most of the economic, social and public health toll of Covid so far. If New Zealand manages to wipe out Delta again in the coming weeks, that is an advantage it may seek to hang on to.
Were in the privileged position of just a few countries on Earth that excluded the virus, Baker says. We can keep options open. We are choosing when to engage with the virus, whereas most of the world has no choice. I would be loth for us to surrender that advantage weve got, until were ready to do it on our terms.
Im very optimistic that we can get to elimination, Wiles says. She pauses, then amends to: I guess cautiously optimistic.
We are in this position because of one case, and so we just have to be really mindful of that. One case could be all it takes.
See the article here:
- New Zealands successful Covid policies hid inequality the government cant ignore it this year - The Guardian - January 9th, 2022
- Afghans in hiding because of service to New Zealand deserve hope, says former soldier - Stuff.co.nz - January 9th, 2022
- The new NZ divide: those anxious about Covid-19's inevitable spread, and the accepting - Stuff.co.nz - January 9th, 2022
- Spy: Predicting the good, the bad and the ugly of 2022 - New Zealand Herald - January 9th, 2022
- Athletics: New Zealand Olympic medalist Tom Walsh reveals decision to split from longtime coach for upcoming season - New Zealand Herald - January 9th, 2022
- Politics and the pandemic - another year of Covid-19 - RNZ - January 5th, 2022
- Bidens petty intolerance over Capitol riots will be politically costly - Sydney Morning Herald - January 5th, 2022
- Jacinda Ardern | NZHistory, New Zealand history online - January 3rd, 2022
- Summer off politics: What Jacinda Ardern is doing, reading, and watching for her break - Stuff.co.nz - January 3rd, 2022
- Green co-leaders reflect on a year of being between Opposition and Government - Stuff.co.nz - January 3rd, 2022
- A giggle and a yarn from crochet creations - Stuff.co.nz - January 3rd, 2022
- Live: Sun sets on 2021 as revellers prepare to bring in the New Year - New Zealand Herald - January 3rd, 2022
- A to Z of sport's movers and shakers to watch out for in 2022 - Irish Examiner - January 3rd, 2022
- 'Jessica, then Tova': Jacinda Ardern grills reporters in 'reverse press conference' on The Hits with Jono and Ben - New Zealand Herald - December 17th, 2021
- Do we need to panic over the 'Jacinda Ardern' deepfake clip? - New Zealand Herald - December 17th, 2021
- Jacinda Ardern says country has hit 90 per cent fully vaccinated and 'bloody deserves' a holiday, in final speech of the year - Stuff.co.nz - December 17th, 2021
- Jacinda Ardern acknowledges New Zealand bravery award recipients and families - The Siasat Daily - December 17th, 2021
- Fractious Australia has much to learn from the kindness and purpose of New Zealand politics - The Guardian - December 17th, 2021
- Jacinda Ardern wedding: Prime Minister reacts to hen's-do gifts from TVNZ Breakfast team - New Zealand Herald - December 17th, 2021
- The worlds most admired people? Has-beens and online poopers - POLITICO Europe - December 17th, 2021
- Jacinda Ardern on Christmas, Covid, vaccines and movies Die Hard, Home Alone and Love Actually - New Zealand Herald - December 10th, 2021
- New Zealand isnt naive about China but it doesnt accept the Aukus worldview - The Guardian - December 10th, 2021
- Ardern: NZ-Aust bond will always be tight - PerthNow - December 10th, 2021
- A century on from the 1919 influenza inquiry, NZ needs a royal commission into the Covid-19 response - Stuff.co.nz - December 10th, 2021
- Jacinda Ardern and the Queen: Forbes reveals 100 most powerful women of 2021 - New Zealand Herald - December 9th, 2021
- Jacinda Ardern's Facebook Livestream Gets Interrupted. Her Reaction Is the Best Lesson in Leadership I've Ever Seen - Inc. - December 9th, 2021
- Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Revealed - The public health advice to have Auckland unshackled by now and why Jacinda Ardern rejected it - New Zealand... - December 9th, 2021
- Jacinda Ardern 'would be surprised' if National seeks to change housing deal given new deputy Nicola Willis 'was a part of discussions' - Newshub - December 9th, 2021
- National and ACT call on Ardern to release Groundswell NZ briefing notes - Stuff.co.nz - December 9th, 2021
- ACT Party's boycott of RNZ's Morning Report caused by host comparing one of its policies to eugenics - Newshub - December 9th, 2021
- Dunne Speaks: Question Time Is Anything But - Scoop - December 9th, 2021
- Covid-19 NZ: Most of New Zealand to start at orange, Auckland and lower-vaccinated areas to start at red - Stuff.co.nz - November 28th, 2021
- Covid 19 Delta outbreak: PM Jacinda Ardern on Covid, visit to Auckland, and National Party turmoil - New Zealand Herald - November 28th, 2021
- PM Jacinda Ardern: 'Throughout this pandemic one of the hardest things to do has been to plan' - RNZ - November 28th, 2021
- New Zealand PM Ardern backs Five Eyes, open to other alliances - Reuters - November 28th, 2021
- Leadership in the time of Covid is a thankless job, in politics and in sport - Stuff.co.nz - November 28th, 2021
- Time for the National Party to embrace kindness - Stuff.co.nz - November 28th, 2021
- 'Disappointing' National Party needs 'new vision' - Former PM - RNZ - November 28th, 2021
- Jacinda Ardern confident that DHBs will be able to cope with Covid-19 pressures over summer - RNZ - November 21st, 2021
- Opposition angst as Ardern on top in NZ - Goulburn Post - November 21st, 2021
- NZ PM Jacinda Ardern admits vaccine passports will create ... - November 17th, 2021
- Jacinda Ardern Daughter Crashes Her Livestream: "Well ... - November 17th, 2021
- Judith Collins questions timing of Jacinda Ardern's hint at early move into COVID-19 traffic light framework - Newshub - November 17th, 2021
- New Zealand PM Ardern welcomes signs of U.S. greater presence in Indo-Pacific - Reuters - November 7th, 2021
- New Zealand's hosting of APEC has 'shifted the dial', Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says - Stuff.co.nz - November 7th, 2021
- PM Jacinda Ardern announces boost to Working for Families payments - The Global Herald - The Global Herald - November 7th, 2021
- 'Perhaps the largest middle-class support scheme in the world' - Stuff.co.nz - November 7th, 2021
- On climate change, this is a Government of wimps - Stuff.co.nz - November 7th, 2021
- Waitangi commemorations set to be held virtually in 2022 due to COVID-19 - Newshub - November 7th, 2021
- Tova on 2020, and a special message for Jami-Lee Ross - Newsroom - November 7th, 2021
- Covid-19: Where has Jacinda Ardern, the great communicator gone? - Stuff.co.nz - November 1st, 2021
- New Zealand increases emissions reduction target - - November 1st, 2021
- Covid-19: Sweeping vaccine mandate to cover 40 per cent of workforce - Stuff.co.nz - November 1st, 2021
- Get vaccinated within a month or face the sack, Jacinda Ardern tells workers - Telegraph.co.uk - October 30th, 2021
- The reason Jacinda Ardern, Nanaia Mahuta think Three Waters will be a success - Newshub - October 30th, 2021
- Covid-19: What we do and don't know about how and when Aucklanders can cross the border - Stuff.co.nz - October 30th, 2021
- Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Lord Ashcroft's New Zealand poll 'Living the Kiwi Dream?' reveals frustration growing - New Zealand Herald - October 30th, 2021
- Border changes keeping thousands of Kiwis in Australia from coming home criticised - SBS News - October 30th, 2021
- Is it to satisfy you or to satisfy us? Why New Zealands Pacific colony doesnt want independence - The Guardian - October 30th, 2021
- Ardern's calm, cannabis farms, and a little bit of Liberace take the Thursday quiz - The Guardian - October 30th, 2021
- Businesses plea for restrictive settings in Auckland to be loosened - Stuff.co.nz - October 30th, 2021
- Straight Outta Hollywood: The Jacinda Ardern Humiliation Show ... - October 21st, 2021
- Covid-19 NZ: The biggest day for the Government since the first day of the first lockdown - Stuff.co.nz - October 21st, 2021
- 'You are holding the country to ransom': Promoter's plea to unvaccinated as summer plans still hang in the balance - Stuff.co.nz - October 21st, 2021
- Three reasons why Jacinda Ardern's coronavirus response ... - October 19th, 2021
- Jacinda Ardern an agenda-driven autocrat? | The ... - October 19th, 2021
- 10 times Jacinda Ardern was a true leader - NZ Labour Party - October 19th, 2021
- Everyday activities won't be available to the unvaccinated - Jacinda Ardern - RNZ - October 19th, 2021
- When will Aucklanders turn on Jacinda Ardern? - MacroBusiness - October 19th, 2021
- New Zealand increases climate aid ahead of UN summit - The Indian Express - October 19th, 2021
- Jacinda Ardern New Zealand: 14 best quotes | The ... - October 17th, 2021
- Why Jacinda Arderns clumsy leadership response to Delta could still be the right approach - The Conversation AU - October 17th, 2021
- Jacinda Ardern pours cold water on wedding allegations, saying staffer helping as a friend - New Zealand Herald - October 17th, 2021
- Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Scathing feedback from experts on Jacinda Ardern's traffic light system to replace alert levels - New Zealand Herald - October 17th, 2021
- What New Zealand's changing COVID strategy tells us about the pandemic's end - WBUR - October 17th, 2021
- Anniversary of a landslide: new research reveals what really swung New Zealand's 2020 'COVID election' - The Conversation AU - October 17th, 2021
- Covid 19: No change likely for Auckland, Waikato but alert levels now on borrowed time - Stuff.co.nz - October 17th, 2021
- Jacinda Ardern | Biography, Facts, & Partner | Britannica - October 7th, 2021
- Jacinda Ardern's Leadership Against the Coronavirus - The ... - October 7th, 2021
- Why Jacinda Ardern giving up on eliminating COVID-19 is a political gamble for the popular PM - ABC News - October 7th, 2021