Jacinda Ardern
File photo: PTI

PMs of New Zealand and Australia lock horns over COVID management

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New Zealand still believes it can “eliminate” COVID instead of “containing” it as Delta cases rise in the country which is among the world’s last COVID-free zones.

Despite rise in active cases of late, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern strongly believes her “COVID zero” elimination strategy will work even with the highly transmissible Delta variant.

The Prime Minister also said on Thursday (August 26) that her government will stop using lockdowns to keep COVID under check once vaccinations reach a high level — a possible sign that while the government is keen on “eliminating” the virus, it may settle for containing it for the time being.

New Zealand has been in a strict lockdown since August 18 as it grapples with its first COVID-19 outbreak since February.

“Our collective goal is to move away from having to use these measures in that way and vaccines help us do that. No one wants to use lockdowns forever and I can tell you now that is not our intention,” she said. “But, for now, while we vaccinate, elimination is the goal,” The Australian reported, quoting Ardern.

Even the medical and health fraternity of New Zealand back their Prime Minister’s strategy of “complete elimination”. “In their (doctors) view, it’s not only possible, but it remains the best strategy. I totally agree,” Ardern had said on Wednesday (August 25).

Currently, New Zealand has 277 active cases, which is the largest cluster the country has reported since the pandemic broke out. On Thursday, 68 more infections were recorded, with fears of the Delta variant spreading fast in Christchurch.

In contrast, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Ardern’s plan to “eliminate” Delta virus is “absurd”. “New Zealand can’t do that,” Morrison said.

Morrison speaks through experience. Australia followed a “COVID-zero” policy for more than one and a half years, but it seems the country failed in its objective to finish the Delta variant. Therefore, the Morrison government is now seen discussing ways to “contain” the virus.

The New Zealand Prime Minister, however, remains firm on her strategy despite criticism from a section of the media which asked if Ardern was “chasing rainbows” in her attempt to kill the Delta variant of the virus. Ardern’s COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins too is apprehensive about the Prime Minister’s “elimination” strategy.

Ardern, on her part, says the government’s plan is concrete and workable because the country, after all, has reported only 26 deaths in a population of 50 lakh since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

Also read: Have you had side effects after being jabbed? Most did not, says survey

“We wanted to save people’s lives, and we have; We wanted to try to have people’s lives lived as normally as possible, and we’ve had some of the shortest periods of restrictions of any country,” she said.

“And we wanted to save jobs and the economy, with the economy running at pre-Covid levels, we’ve done that too.”

Speaking for nationwide lockdown, Ardern said, “Lockdown is having an impact … but Delta is very, very tricky.”

The New Zealand government is set to review its nationwide lockdown on Friday (August 27). However, Auckland, where the outbreak is concentrated, is likely to remain under strict stay-at-home orders until at least August 31.

New Zealand has been in a strict lockdown since August 18 as it grapples with its first COVID-19 outbreak since February.

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