New Zealand’s Covid response minister says the country will not “throw in the towel” with its elimination strategy, as cases continue to rise.
New Zealand announced 63 new cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total to 210 cases. It is the largest single-day jump since the outbreak began last week, and 12 people are hospitalised with the virus.
Some commentators and media overseas have questioned whether the country should continue its elimination strategy, but Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins said the country would be staying its course.
“To New Zealanders at home who are saying, ‘is this still the right strategy’, it’s too soon to throw in the towel,” he said. “We’ve come this far, it would be an absolute waste for us to give up on this now. We still want to drive this particular outbreak of Covid-19 out of our community and get back to a sense of normality.”
“Of course we do want to get to the point where lockdowns aren’t the answer to potential outbreaks within the community, but we’re not there yet, and we’re certainly not willing to give up before we get to that point,” Hipkins said.
His comments echoed those of the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, on Monday: “For now, everyone is in agreement: elimination is the strategy. There is no discussion or debate amongst any of us about that, because that is the safest option for us while we vaccinate our people,” she said.
Support for the government’s approach to Covid remains sky high in New Zealand. According to polling conducted by The Spinoff and released on Wednesday, just 10% of New Zealanders did not think elimination was the right strategy. Sixty-nine percent still backed the approach, and 21% said they were unsure. An additional poll found 84% of New Zealanders supported the decision to move into lockdown last week.
While cases have been rising steadily, experts have emphasised that New Zealand is likely still seeing results from those infected before lockdown began, and daily case numbers may continue to rise for several days. Due to the incubation period of the virus and time to process test results, it’s still too soon to know whether the level four lockdown is proving effective at containing Delta.
The director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, said that while the growth in cases was steady, it was not exponential. “The fact that the rate of increase is not exponential is explicitly because we have a level four lockdown in place,” he said.
Hipkins said the country had hit a new record in vaccinations, with 80,000 people receiving doses on Tuesday.
New Zealand’s current outbreak is so far restricted to the North island – 12 of the cases are in Wellington, and the remainder in Auckland. Some 20,383 individual contacts are now connected to this cluster, and health officials had made contact with 12,700 of them.
The country is in a nationwide lockdown. On Friday, the government will give an update on whether the entire country will remain in level four lockdown, or whether restrictions will loosen for cities other than Auckland and Wellington.