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‘Zero Covid’ strategies abandoned in the face of the delta variant


On Wednesday, August 12, 2020, police officers in protective masks spoke to motorists at the Bombay checkpoint, Auckland, New Zealand.

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LONDON — New Zealand has become the latest country to abandon a zero Covid strategy, with the virus proving much harder to stop now the highly infectious delta variant is dominant.

New Zealand, which had previously taken one of the most stringent approaches in the world to controlling the spread of Covid-19 disease, announced Monday it would not continue to pursue an approach to eliminating all Covid cases.

Also used by Taiwanese and Chinese, this zero Covid strategy involves strict lockdowns even after detection of a few cases.

After a lockdown was put in place in Auckland, the virus spread to other cities. The virus is 60% more likely to spread than the beta variant, which was discovered late in 2020 and that itself infected a previously less dangerous version.

New Zealand is known for being very strict about dealing with Covid. Prime Minister Jacinda Adern placed the whole country in strict lockdown on August after a single suspected case of Covid caused by the delta variant — at that time the country’s first coronavirus case in six months — was reported in Auckland.

On Monday Ardern stated that the lockdown in the city would gradually be lifted and that the country was shifting its strategy to tackle Covid.

Ardern stated during a press conference, “For this epidemic it’s evident that long periods of severe restrictions have not got us to zero instances.”  But that’s okay. Because we didn’t have vaccines, elimination was vital. We now have vaccines, and we are able to begin changing the way that we think.

Ardern stressed that strict control was necessary, but said it needed to still “contain, control and manage the virus as best as we can, while making our transition from an environment where heavy restrictions are used to an area where vaccines are routinely used in public health measures.”

It’s just not working

This is the first public signal that New Zealand has abandoned its zero Covid strategy. Australia also abandoned its zero tolerance, or “Covid zero” approachIn September, the company stated that it was now “learning how to live with” this virus.

As in New Zealand and Australia, Australia decided to end the strategy following a lockdown in Melbourne that was meant to stop an outbreak. 

Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews said at that time that “we had thrown everything we could at it, but it now seems to us that they are not going down these numbers, rather, they will increase.”

Victoria Police patrolling St Kilda beach, Melbourne, Australia, on October 03 2020. As Victoria moves into the second stage of its government-approved roadmap for reopening, Coronavirus restrictions have been slightly relaxed in Melbourne since Monday 28 September.

Darrian Traynor | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Experts don’t find it surprising that there has been a shift in strategy. They point out the futility of such strategies due to the widespread delta variant.

“It’s no surprise that New Zealand has abandoned its ‘zero covid’ strategy – the highly transmissible delta variant has changed the game and means that an elimination strategy is no longer viable,” Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, told CNBC Monday.

“That doesn’t mean that NZ’s and Australia’s robust approach to managing the pandemic – strict border restrictions, quarantine measures and strong contact tracing – hasn’t been effective but continued heavy restrictions are damaging to individuals and society,” he said.

He said that zero tolerance policies would become more difficult as the rest the world becomes open, but added that people should remain vigilant. The global spread of the virus must be stopped by all means.

Experts often question the effectiveness of trying to stop the spread and spread of Covid-19. However, in some countries, where vaccine rollouts are slower than expected, lockdowns can be used to reduce, or even eliminate, the spread.

Ardern, who was defending the Auckland lockdown on Monday, said that a zero Covid strategy for Auckland had been “right choice and only option” while Auckland’s vaccination rates remained low at 25%.

Seven weeks later, 52% of Aucklanders had been fully vaccinated. 84% only had one dose. Research shows that Covid-19 vaccines are highly effective for protecting individuals against death, serious infection and hospitalization.

Zero Covid adherents

Experts from the region believe there are good reasons to not abandon zero Covid strategies just yet, even though vaccination rates remain low.

David Hui is a Chinese University of Hong Kong professor who leads the Anthropometrics program. expert committee that advises the government, told CNBC that Hong Kong won’t reconsider its zero-tolerance Covid-19 strategy to one of “living with the virus” until the vaccination rate is higher.

Contrary to Singapore [the]U.K., and other Western nations. Hong Kong’s overall vaccination rate is too low (67% received one dose, and 62% were given two doses). It would be difficult to live with this virus. According to him, the vaccine rate is 30% for people aged 70 and under.

“If we continue to live with this virus, many unvaccinated elderly will contract severe diseases and the healthcare system will crumble.”

The Economist Intelligence Unit noted in a report in July that it expects zero‑Covid markets in Asia to retain tight border controls throughout 2021, only loosening from early 2022 when mass vaccination is achieved.

“Deaths among ‘zero Covid’ countries in Asia have been much lower than global peers and the economic impact less severe, contributing to a much shallower recession in Asia in 2020 than in other regions,” it said, noting that, “if the rest of the world had adopted a similar approach, zero‑Covid might prove a sustainable strategy. It is now at risk of becoming a strategy that hinders rather than supports economic activity when the global economy reopens.

Still, the EIU noted, the policies ultimately adopted by zero‑Covid countries will still be more conservative than those in force in North America and Europe. The EIU stated, “The target is “low Covid”, and the current approaches taken by Japan or South Korea could serve as models.”

The EUI believed China and Taiwan were the economies in the strongest position to maintain a zero‑Covid strategy, owing to their low reliance on cross border flows of capital and talent.