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New Zealand wages high-stakes effort to halt virus outbreak

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By early subsequent week, New Zealanders ought to know if their authorities’s strict new lockdown is working to stamp out its first coronavirus outbreak in six months.

A profitable effort may once more make the nation’s virus response the envy of the world. A failure may expose flaws in its well being system, together with a scarcity of hospital beds and a sluggish vaccine rollout.

The high-stakes marketing campaign hinges on whether or not new infections, which have risen for the previous 10 days, start to drop.

Final week, the federal government put the nation into the complete lockdown after solely a single group case was detected within the metropolis of Auckland.


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“It’s counterintuitive,” mentioned epidemiologist Michael Baker. “When there’s a risk, you normally enhance the response because it will get extra harmful. Right here, we’re doing the other, with the utmost response when the risk is tiny.”

It is a technique that has labored extremely effectively for New Zealand however faces its greatest check towards a more durable enemy: the extremely contagious delta variant of the virus. Baker, a professor on the College of Otago, mentioned the technique was one of the best method and he was optimistic it will succeed once more.

For the reason that pandemic started, New Zealand has reported solely 26 deaths from the virus in a inhabitants of 5 million. The demise price per capita in Britain and the U.S. is about 400 occasions increased. Remarkably, life expectancy for New Zealanders really rose in 2020 as virus measures helped scale back different seasonal illnesses just like the flu.

The U.S. is within the grip of a wave of an infection powered by the delta variant, which has despatched {cases}, deaths and hospitalizations hovering once more, wiping out months of progress.

New Zealanders lived virus-free within the six months main as much as the newest outbreak, going to workplaces, shops and sports activities stadiums while not having to put on masks, whereas youngsters attended faculty.


Then a traveler coming back from Sydney introduced the delta variant and it in some way escaped from a quarantine lodge. The outbreak has grown to about 350 recognized {cases} and is straining New Zealand’s contact-tracing system as staff attempt to observe down 30,000 different individuals who may need been uncovered.

New Zealand has a big diaspora of Pacific Island folks. The outbreak has hit this group notably laborious after spreading at a Samoan church occasion that drew tons of. That led to some racist assaults on social media.

“That is disappointing and, frankly, gutless,” mentioned Ashley Bloomfield, the director-general of public well being. “I’m asking everybody within the nation to be form.”

The lockdown prevents most individuals from leaving residence apart from to train, or to purchase groceries or medication. Retail shops are closed, as are eating places — together with takeout — faculties and most companies.

Whereas a lot of the world is studying to reside with the virus and has moved away from laborious lockdowns, most New Zealanders nonetheless embrace them.

“Happily, there’s an ideal staff spirit,” mentioned Lesley Grey, a public well being specialist on the College of Otago. “It is fairly apparent to me that the nation would fairly maintain this out. We need to stamp it out, maintain it out.”

Among the many handful of different locations which have efficiently pursued virus elimination methods are China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore.

Close by Australia stamped out earlier outbreaks however leaders say they can not do away with the delta variant, which has continued to unfold in Sydney regardless of a two-month lockdown. New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian says she’ll ease restrictions for vaccinated adults subsequent month, regardless of report an infection numbers reaching greater than 1,000 a day.

George Williams, a constitutional regulation knowledgeable on the College of New South Wales, mentioned that whereas he helps the Sydney lockdown, he additionally sees dangers within the authorities getting too snug in utilizing its extraordinary powers.

“They’re fairly draconian, fairly authoritarian measures, which might be unthinkable exterior a pandemic,” he mentioned, noting that in contrast to in lots of democracies, Australians aren’t protected by a Invoice of Rights.

Some Australians are also tiring of lockdowns. Lots of have been arrested and given heavy fines this month for defying well being orders at protests.

In New Zealand, the place the lockdown is even stricter, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster mentioned about 70 protesters and different rule-breakers have been arrested because it started, however he is pleased with the general degree of compliance.

With little else to do, many New Zealanders watch day by day information conferences held by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and others. Like a slow-moving forensic drama, the briefings define the newest infections, locations these folks visited and genome-sequencing outcomes.

There have been moments of levity, equivalent to when COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins misspoke about exercising open air, saying folks may go “unfold their legs” — a remark rapidly mocked on social media.

However there will likely be critical penalties if the lockdown fails.

New Zealand’s vaccine rollout has been the slowest of any developed nation, with solely 39% of individuals having gotten at the very least one shot and 22% absolutely vaccinated. The nation selected to make use of solely the Pfizer vaccine and did not approve its use till two months after U.S. regulators first accepted it for emergency use.

The federal government blames the preliminary slowness of the rollout on Pfizer’s supply schedule.

However opposition lawmaker Chris Bishop mentioned the federal government’s “negligent execution of the rollout has left New Zealand a sitting duck for the delta variant.”

Vaccinations have sped up quickly for the reason that outbreak started, with well being staff now giving doses to almost 2% of the inhabitants daily.

One other problem is a scarcity of intensive-care hospital beds. A latest report by a bunch of consultants famous that on the pandemic’s begin, New Zealand had fewer than one-third the quantity than the common in developed nations, and little had modified since then.

“The New Zealand well being system continues to be poorly resourced to take care of any giant outbreak of a illness equivalent to COVID-19,” the report discovered.


Many New Zealanders are determined to go to family members overseas and need to know when the lockdowns will finish and the borders will reopen. Ardern, the prime minister, has promised a cautious reopening early subsequent yr however has given few specifics.

“For now, whereas we vaccinate, elimination is the purpose,” she mentioned. “And we will do it.”

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