New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has dismissed criticism of her ambitious elimination strategy to stamp out Covid, as the country’s outbreak grows, saying the approach has saved lives and will continue to do so.
On Thursday, the coronavirus outbreak grew by 68 cases, taking the total number of cases to 277. One previously reported case has been reclassified after being confirmed as a false positive.
Of the cases, 263 are in Auckland, and 14 are in Wellington. Many of the cases are among the Samoan community and linked to a sub-cluster who assembled at the Assembly of God church in Māngere.
The country is in a nationwide lockdown as it grapples with the Delta variant outbreak. The decision to place the country into a level 4 lockdown – the highest setting – was made after one case in the community emerged last week.
Speaking on Thursday, Ardern said she was “not fussed” about debating and comparing different countries’ Covid strategies, and added that expert advice says New Zealand should continue to pursue elimination.
“For me, and I’m sure many others, the measure of success in this pandemic is not just what happens in August of 2021. It’s what has happened since February 2020, when Covid arrived in New Zealand.
“Then, and now, we had three goals: we wanted to save people’s lives, and we have. We wanted to try and have people’s lives lived as normally as possible and even now, we’ve had some of the shortest periods of restrictions of any country. We wanted to save people’s jobs in the economy. With unemployment at 4% and the economy performing at pre-Covid levels, we’ve done that too.”
Ardern said the goal was to move away from lockdowns, but that could happen only once the majority of the population was vaccinated.
On Wednesday, 87,772 doses were administered – a daily record. Three million doses in total have now been given out. Three-quarters of the population over 30 have now either had a dose or are booked in to receive one.
Genome sequencing has linked the Auckland cluster to a returnee from Australia. It is not yet known how the virus was transmitted from the traveller, who was in quarantine, to the community, but a walkway and an atrium in the facility are being investigated.
On Thursday, the director general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, told the NZ Herald a possible link had been established between the facility and a case in the Māngere sub-cluster – a development that could fill in the missing link of how the virus was transmitted.
There are now 495 locations listed for potential exposure, including schools, universities, hospitals, churches, bars, restaurants, airports, a casino and a rugby game. More than 24,000 close contacts have been identified across the country. In August 2020’s outbreak, 1,500 close contacts were identified.
Ardern said the increase in cases was no surprise, but that in good news, of the more than 60 cases logged on Wednesday, only three new locations of interest were reported.
“That tells us something really important: that people are following level 4 and that we’re beginning to reach people who have become infected since lockdown began.”
The country is in level 4 lockdown until midnight Friday, with Auckland in lockdown until midnight Tuesday next week. Ardern will update the nation on any changes to the lockdown settings on Friday afternoon.