Ardern attacked for NZ's elimination pivot

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An unlikely alliance of health professionals, Maori, business and political parties across the spectrum have seized on Jacinda Ardern's pivot from New Zealand's COVID-19 elimination strategy.

On Monday, Ms Ardern announced NZ was "transitioning" into a new phase of its fight against the coronavirus, relying more heavily on vaccination even as community transmission continues.

Health officials announced 24 new cases on Tuesday, including eight in the Waikato as the Delta outbreak spreads south from Auckland.

Despite the new cases, Ms Ardern is pushing on with her three-phase plan to restore freedoms to Aucklanders.

The first move is a small one.

From Wednesday, locked-down Aucklanders will be able to move around the whole city again, and Kiwis will be able to gather outside two households at a time.

But the signal it sends - that the government is now tolerating cases in the community - has alarmed those most at risk.

Key advisor Siousxie Wiles told TVNZ she was "gutted" by the shift, and Intensive Care Society spokesman Andrew Stapleton said the system would not cope.

"With every announcement that means that there's more COVID in the community before people are vaccinated, we worry more," he told Radio NZ.

"A lot of my colleagues are feeling the stress and anxiety of the outbreak as well as the constant pressure on the system."

Another COVID-19 modeller who has advised the government, Michael Plank said "it is really a matter of time before COVID finds its way to all corners of New Zealand".

The country's undernourished health sector is one of the prime reasons Ms Ardern adopted the elimination strategy last year.

NZ has about half the ICU beds per capita of Australia, leaving it with less capacity to care for COVID-19 patients.

New Zealand's vaccination rates also remain behind Australia.

As of Tuesday, about 77 per cent of the eligible population was at least partially vaccinated, with 47 per cent double-jabbed.

Vaccination rates are lower still among Maori and Pacific communities, which make up around a fifth of NZ's population, but four-fifths of the infected in this outbreak.

"It could be a death warrant for Maori and Pacific peoples, especially our young, unless the push to vaccinate takes hold," Maori TV's Whatitiri Te Wake wrote on Tuesday.

Condemnation of the move was not universal.

Respected Maori doctor Rawiri Jansen said keeping Auckland in lockdown was necessary and the phased steps were "proportionate and compassionate."

Still, the tide is overwhelmingly flowing against the Labour government, including business.

Ahead of Auckland's 50th consecutive day in lockdown on Wednesday, Auckland business chamber chief executive Michael Barnett said members were "desperate for revenue, burdened with debt, short-changed in the financial support being offered".

Mr Barnett also called on the government to mandate vaccination for public servants, as the United States has done, and watch business follow.

In Wellington meanwhile, Ms Ardern's transition to the Australia-style roadmap has not won support from other parties.

Opposition leader Judith Collins said the announcement "wasn't a plan, but a confused collection of gobbledygook", while ACT leader David Seymour called it "a roadmap to nowhere".

Maori party co-leader said it made Maoris "expendable", while government partners the Greens also worry about "vulnerable communities and children" being infected.

Ms Ardern, who also on Tuesday also announced plans to phase in vaccine certificates, said she was relying on public health advice.

"We will continue - very different to other countries - to take a very aggressive approach with COVID, we always have and we will continue to do so," she said.

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