New Zealand on Monday abandoned its long-standing strategy of eliminating coronavirus amid a persistent delta outbreak, and will instead look to live with the virus and control its spread as its vaccination rate rises.
The Pacific nation was among just a handful of countries to bring COVID-19 cases down to zero last year and largely stayed virus-free until an outbreak of the highly infectious delta variant in mid-August frustrated efforts to stamp out transmission.
“With this outbreak and delta the return to zero is incredibly difficult,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference in a major policy shift.
“This is a change in approach we were always going to make over time. Our delta outbreak has accelerated this transition. Vaccines will support it.”
Ardern said a lockdown affecting 1.7 million people in the biggest city Auckland will be scaled back in phases, with some freedoms introduced from Wednesday.
The change of direction came as the country recorded 29 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, taking the total number in the current outbreak to 1,357. Most cases are in Auckland, which has been in lockdown for nearly 50 days.
Amid mounting pressure, Ardern has said her strategy was never to have zero cases, but to aggressively stamp out the virus. She said strict lockdowns will end once 90 per cent of the eligible population is vaccinated.
About two million New Zealanders have so far been fully vaccinated, or about 48 per cent of the eligible population.
What’s happening across Canada
WATCH | Majority of Canada’s COVID-19 patients are in western provinces:
What’s happening around the world
As of early Monday, more than 234.9 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus-tracking tool. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.8 million.
In the Middle East, Israel on Sunday piled pressure on its vaccinated citizens to get a booster shot by making only those who received their third dose eligible for a “green pass” allowing entry to restaurants, gyms and many other venues.
WATCH | Israel fights COVID-19 fourth wave with third doses:
In the Americas, New York City teachers and other school staff members are supposed to be vaccinated against COVID-19 when the bell rings this morning, in one of the first school district mandates in the U.S. requiring employees to be inoculated against the coronavirus.
In Europe, Russia’s health minister said the country’s Sputnik V vaccine was closer to getting approval from the World Health Organization.