Delta defeats NZ's elimination strategy

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After 18 months employing one of the world's most successful COVID-19 responses, Jacinda Ardern has signalled New Zealand will shift from its elimination strategy.

On Monday, she announced an Australia-style roadmap for Auckland, the centre of a Delta outbreak that has infected 1357 people over the last seven weeks.

Auckland, already in lockdown for 48 days, will stay under alert level three settings for the foreseeable future, and will gradually be moved across three phases.

Phase one will begin on Wednesday, when Aucklanders will be able to move around the whole city and meet up outside in groups of two households.

Phase two hands back more freedoms, including the return of in-person retail, public facilities to open, and outdoor gatherings of 25.

Phase three allows hospitality businesses and hairdressers to reopen and gatherings will grow to 50 - inside or outside.

Unlike Australian roadmaps, there are no trigger points or dates attached to the phases, instead, Ms Ardern's government will conduct weekly reviews to assess whether it is safe to move.

Ms Ardern said NZ would keep trying to "stamp COVID-19 out" but would increasingly rely on vaccination rather than lockdowns to control the virus.

"We're transitioning from our current strategy into a new way of doing things," Ms Ardern said.

"(But) we're not there yet. We need more people fully vaccinated across more suburbs and more age groups."

New Zealand's elimination strategy has been globally heralded from both a public health and economic perspective.

Since the initial outbreak ended last June, just four people have died from COVID-19 in Aotearoa.

New Zealanders have enjoyed more freedoms for longer than the rest of the developed world - according to Bloomberg - and have avoided economic peril.

The unemployment rate is currently four per cent, and the Reserve Bank is widely tipped to raise interest rates this week.

However, the arrival of Delta into the community has proved the game-changer.

The 1.7 million residents of the Auckland region have been in lockdown for 48 days, following the discovery of community cases on August 17.

On the weekend, more than 200,000 Waikato residents joined them after Delta cases were discovered in Hamilton and Raglan.

On Monday, health officials reported 29 new community cases - showing the outbreak is far from over.

The seven-day rolling daily case average is 26 and 30 Kiwis are currently in hospital with the virus.

That includes at least one newborn, who tested positive for COVID-19 in an Auckland hospital.

"The elimination strategy has served us incredibly well and was the right thing to do for New Zealand," Ms Ardern said.

"Over time we were always going to move to a place ... where vaccines helped us so we didn't necessarily every time we had a case (lock down)."

Public health officials have vowed to increase New Zealand's middle-of-the-road vaccination rates: 77 per cent of the eligible population are partially vaccinated and 46 per cent are double-jabbed.

Ms Ardern set Aucklanders a public challenge to have 90 per cent of the city's eligible population partially vaccinated by Monday.

Aucklanders didn't get there, with vax rates sitting at 84 per cent.

Until the 90 per cent rate is reached - which includes additional thresholds of 90 per cent for Maori and Pacific populations - Ms Ardern says she will keep employing lockdowns.

The policy shift has not been well received by other political parties.

Opposition National have labelled it "incoherent", while government partners the Greens say it "risks the safety of vulnerable communities and children".

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