Expert warns Covid could tear through New Zealand between now and Christmas

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New Zealanders who have so far successfully defended against COVID-19 should prepare themselves to face the coronavirus before Christmas, a leading epidemiologist has warned.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Arden announced on Monday that the government was abandoning its ambitious zero-Covid strategy, even as a spike in cases was reported due to the spread of the highly contagious delta variant. Instead, the government will focus on speeding up the vaccination process and phasing out restrictions, she said.

The Pacific island nation reported 29 new cases of the virus on Thursday, bringing the total in the latest outbreak to 1,448.


“Basically I think … all New Zealanders should plan to face this virus in the next few months and act accordingly, and of course the number one thing is to get vaccinated,” said top epidemiologist and University of Otago Professor Michael Baker pointed out morning report, a news show on the RNZ national channel.

On Thursday, the government urged citizens to reduce their time between vaccine doses to three weeks instead of the previously recommended six weeks.

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According to the country’s health ministry data, so far 51 percent of the population above the age of 12 years has been fully vaccinated, with 80 percent of the eligible population given the first dose.

The country was hit by a slow rollout of the vaccine due to procurement difficulties, although it has accelerated in recent weeks.

“It is clear that a long period of heavy restrictions has not led us to zero cases. But that’s fine. Elimination was important because we didn’t have vaccinations. Now we do. So we can start to change the way we do things,” Ms Arden said on Monday.

Backing the decision to reduce the gap between vaccinations, Dr. Baker said, “We know that means two doses and two weeks after that to be completely safe.”

“For example, if you have your first dose next week, you’ll get a second dose three weeks after that in early November, and by mid-November you’ll be completely safe, so I think really That’s what people should plan to do, and the problem is if there’s a six-week gap between your two doses, it really pushes that protection into December,” he explained.

In the country’s largest vaccination campaign, the New Zealand government hopes to vaccinate 350,000 people in a single day next week.

Vaccination clinics will be open all day on 16 October, announced on Wednesday the Minister of Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins.

The day the governmentsuper saturday”, aims to vaccinate 8.3 percent of the eligible population.

“As on Election Day, we will ask all of our civic and political leaders to contribute to our efforts to get the people out,” Mr. Hipkins said.

The strict lockdown affecting 1.7 million people in the largest city, Auckland, was rolled back in phases from Wednesday, despite ravaging the delta version in the country.

People in the city were allowed to step out of their homes and meet others with a limit of 10 people in a group. Beaches and parks will also be made accessible to the public.

New Zealand has been one of the very few countries to contain a large-scale outbreak of the virus through a zero-tolerance approach. The nation of five million people declared itself COVID-free and went back to regular life in June 2020, when most of the country was still under lockdown.

However, things changed when a delta version of the virus that originated in India was brought in by a traveler returning from Australia in August. On Wednesday the nation recorded its 28th death since the start of the pandemic.

The government announced earlier on Sunday that all foreign nationals entering New Zealand would be required to be fully vaccinated from 1 November.


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