5 Oct 2021

New Zealand gives in: How international media sees the Covid-19 strategy

12:11 pm on 5 October 2021

New Zealand gave in on Monday, the government finally acknowledging it could not stop the spread of Delta, as others did long ago, according to international media coverage.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during her post-Cabinet press conference with director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield at Parliament, Wellington. 27 September, 2021.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Photo: Pool/NZME/Mark Mitchell

Much of the overseas reporting on New Zealand's easing of Covid-19 restrictions despite community cases said the government had finally acknowledged something most others had done long ago.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's announcement of a three-stage roadmap to ease level 3 restrictions in Auckland marked a move away from the elimination strategy.

New Zealand abandoned its zero-Covid ambitions the New York Times said, changing course seven weeks into a lockdown that had failed to end the outbreak and tested the patience of many residents.

For a year and a half, New Zealand had pursued a strategy of "Covid zero," closing its borders and quickly enforcing lockdowns to keep the coronavirus in check, a policy it maintained even as other Asia-Pacific countries transitioned to coexisting with the viral threat, it said.

Britain's Daily Mail said New Zealand had "finally acknowledged what most other countries realised long ago", that it cannot "eradicate" Covid-19.

Jacinda Ardern is abandoning her draconian 'Zero Covid' strategy, the Mail said, after admitting she cannot stop the spread of the Delta variant with harsh lockdown measures and aggressive contact tracing.

"The Pacific nation, which has been slow to move on vaccines with only 40 per cent of the population fully jabbed, managed to eliminate the virus last year and stayed largely free until an outbreak of the Delta variant in August after a traveller returned from Australia."

The Daily Telegraph's coverage nodded to international astonishment in August that New Zealand had locked down seemingly because of a single case.

"The Pacific nation was among just a handful of countries to bring Covid-19 cases down to zero last year," it said. "Despite New Zealand going into the strictest form of lockdown after just a single local case was detected, it ultimately wasn't enough.

"The government's elimination approach had been broadly supported by New Zealanders and helped her secure an historic election victory last year, but was facing increasing criticism. Over the weekend, hundreds of people turned out to rallies protesting the lockdown."

US channel Fox News called New Zealand's strategy since the start of the pandemic an "unusual" zero-tolerance approach, through strict lockdowns and aggressive contact tracing.

Until recently it had worked "remarkably well" allowing New Zealanders to go back to "workplaces, school yards and sports stadiums safe from any community spread".

But New Zealand had begun its vaccination campaign slowly compared to most other developed nations and while rates rocketed in August after the outbreak began they have dropped off significantly again, it said.

The New Scientist also chose to focus on New Zealand's shift to controlling the virus with vaccination, reporting that 48 percent of the eligible population have been fully inoculated while Ardern aimed for 90 percent to stave off lockdowns.

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