Australia and New Zealand are rethinking their current Covid-19 strategies due to a surge in new cases caused by the spreading of the Delta variant. Initially both countries had strategies implemented that would bring the total number of cases down to zero before any type of social gatherings would be allowed, however, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently claimed that he believes it’s unlikely his country will ever return to zero cases.
“Australia’s focus needs to shift to hospitalization rates rather than case numbers. The highly infectious nature of delta raised some pretty big questions about New Zealand’s approach of eliminating the disease,” Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said.
In the beginning of the pandemic both Australia and New Zealand were advocates for the Covid Zero strategy. This meant that both nations closed their borders and implemented local guidelines to focus more on slowing down community-level transmission without having to worry about international visitors.
This strategy was extremely successful, and prevented massive waves of new infections and deaths, like we saw here in the US. However, the spreading of the new delta variant has challenged this strategy greatly. In fact, Australia recently reported its highest number of daily infections for a second day straight. New Zealand is currently under the strictest lockdown measure that they’ve been in since the beginning of the pandemic.
“With a virus that can be infectious within 24 hours of someone getting it, that does change the game a bit. With our Level Four lockdown, we are very well placed to be able to run it to ground, but we have to be prepared for the fact that we can’t do that every time there is one of these.”
Hipkins explained that the Covid Zero strategy had worked wonderfully pre-delta, but now it’s looking like a less adequate way to combat the new variant. The spreading of this variant also has to do with the vaccination rates in both nations.
In both New Zealand and Australia less than 30% of the population is fully vaccinated. Australia’s Morrison claims vaccination rates need to reach 70-80% of the eligible population before restrictions are lifted again.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Morrison said rising cases “need not impact our plan to reopen, and reopen as soon as we can.”
“So while right now our national strategy is necessarily about suppressing the virus and vaccinating as many people as possible, a one-eyed focus on just case numbers overlooks the fact that less people are getting seriously ill, let alone dying.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recently laid out a plan that would ease lockdown restrictions as the government speeds up its vaccination rollout. Their goal is to reopen their borders by 2022.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.