New Zealand admits it can no longer keep COVID out of its borders

October 4, 2021, 4:58 PM UTC

For most of the pandemic, New Zealand has been an area of safety, completely eliminating the virus from its borders. On Monday, though, the government conceded that it can no longer do that.

The Delta variant of the virus has managed to spread, despite strict lockdown policies and some of the most aggressive contact tracing in the world. Delta hit New Zealand in August, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern quickly ordered a nationwide lockdown.

That lockdown is ongoing, but there are still new cases every day. And that one case in August has grown to more than 1,300 cases today.

It’s a small number compared to the rest of the world. But health officials say that New Zealand, after being largely virus free for the past year, is likely to have COVID be a permanent part of the landscape.

Ardern is tempering that news, though, saying the presence of vaccines in the country could make that less worrisome than it might seem.

“Elimination was important because we didn’t have vaccines; now we do,” she told New Zealand Radio. “This is a change in approach we were always going to make over time, but the Delta outbreak has accelerated that transition. Vaccines will support it.”

Roughly 65% of New Zealanders have had at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. Some 40% are fully vaccinated. Among people age 12 and older, about 79% have had at least a single shot.

Alongside the announcement, Ardern eased some lockdown restrictions, saying Aucklanders could meet outdoors with friends from one other household and early-childhood centers will reopen. People will also be able to go to the beach. The timing of reopening for stores, bars, and restaurants has not yet been decided.

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