New Zealand's Omicron outbreak continues to grow as the country desperately tries to suppress the highly infectious Covid variant, putting the nation in an increasingly isolated position.
While China is famously continuing its Covid-zero strategy, Australia's antipodean neighbour is the last developed democratic nation still trying to keep Covid at bay.
On Saturday, the country recorded 97 new community-based Covid cases, down slightly from the day before. But only a minority of the cases are the Omicron variant, with 116 community cases in total so far confirmed as the more infectious strain.
As New Zealand stares down the inevitable, the ground appears to have shifted beneath prime minister Jacinda Ardern who has been widely praised for her management of the pandemic but is facing growing questions as the country continues to pursue a strict suppression strategy.
A New Zealand native returning home from living in Sydney has shared a bizarre video with Yahoo News Australia from inside hotel quarantine in Auckland.
The short clip, which she surreptitiously filmed, shows an outdoor area where travellers are allowed to walk around in a circle for 20 minutes at a time. Arrows on the ground guide the way.
"Some people are walking slowly, so you try to go around them ... It’s really strange," the woman told Yahoo.
"I just had to share the footage with someone."
The triple vaccinated woman, who wished to remain anonymous, expects to quarantine for 10 days.
"I’m on day three, I’ve only just been able to get outside now," she said, joking that the exercise area looked like "some weird military operation".
There was a smoking section near the walking arena, as well as an outdoor rooftop space that quarantining guests could book.
Those in isolation are called each day for "wellbeing checks" and delivered daily newsletters with crosswords, games and comics while the food is "pretty good".
The woman remains unsure if she will be billed for her stay, but according to a NZ government website, citizens can be charged as much as $1,610 (A$1,500) for a 10-day solo hotel quarantine stay.
While the system compares favourably to the same hotel quarantine policy enforced by Australian states in 2020 and 2021, New Zealand remains one of the few remaining countries requiring vaccinated people to isolate upon entry.
NSW and Victoria scrapped hotel quarantine for fully vaccinated international arrivals last year, while Queensland followed suit earlier this month.
Facing Omicron, Jacinda Ardern – who just cancelled her wedding – is facing growing questions about when New Zealand will take the next step in its pandemic approach.
"You can tell that the New Zealand community is kind of getting up in arms," the woman told Yahoo.
"Everyone loved Jacinda [Ardern] but now they’re thinking this government is screwed with the whole MIQ (managed isolation and quarantine) system."
Ardern attacked in international media
Last week, the NZ government outlined Omicron plans which could see household contacts of a positive case required to isolate for as many as 24 days, the NZ Herald reported.
Close contacts would be required to quarantine for 10 days after the final day of exposure with a positive case, who in a household would have already been isolating for 14 days, hence the potential 24-day period.
The notion was widely criticised, no more so than in British media.
A comment piece in the UK's Telegraph declared Ms Ardern was "determined to martyr herself along with the rest of the country" over a failed Covid policy.
Controversial conservative pundit Piers Morgan slammed Ms Ardern's "draconian" rules given the high vaccination rate in the country, saying Kiwis were trapped "in a perpetual pandemic prison camp" due to ongoing restrictions.
Meanwhile a segment on ITV's This Morning program on Thursday (local time) was shared widely on TikTok after the associated editor of Britain's Daily Telegraph, Camilla Tominey, went on the program and labelled New Zealand's approach "ludicrous".
It's like "using a sledgehammer to crack a nut," she claimed.
New Zealand has recorded just 52 deaths during the Covid pandemic.
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