Coronavirus: Global situation

NZ predicts 5,000 cases a week even if vaccination rate hits 90 per cent

AUCKLAND • Once the envy of the world for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, New Zealand is now preparing its health system for an influx of Covid-19 patients as it pivots away from its elimination strategy.

Health Minister Andrew Little yesterday said modelling forecasts more than 5,000 cases per week in the Auckland and Northland regions next year, even assuming 90 per cent of the eligible population is vaccinated.

The figure does not include the rest of the country, where modelling is still being conducted.

"That's the worst-case scenario, but even at that level, the vast bulk of people who would get infected would recover at home, or somewhere else in the community, because the majority will be vaccinated and won't suffer as badly as those who are unvaccinated," Mr Little told Radio New Zealand.

The country's health system has not yet been tested by surging Covid-19 cases, but ministers now concede a lockdown in the largest city Auckland would not beat the infectious Delta strain and are preparing to ease restrictions as vaccination rates rise. Daily new case numbers are worsening, with 71 infections reported yesterday, the most since early last month.

For most of last year and much of this year, while many countries hunkered down as the virus tore through their populations, New Zealanders were able to enjoy life largely unencumbered by curbs after community transmission was successfully eliminated. Concerts were held, rugby games continued, bars and restaurants were open, children attended school and, apart from the border being closed, life was seemingly normal.

But the Delta variant put paid to all that. In August, a single positive case resulted in the entire country being put under the strictest level of lockdown.

More than eight weeks later, Auckland is still locked down, but Delta continues to circulate. The virus has recently seeped out into the neighbouring regions of Northland and Waikato, resulting in further lockdowns.

With only around 60 per cent of the eligible population fully vaccinated, the government is rushing to inoculate as many people as possible before the outbreak spreads further.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2021, with the headline 'NZ predicts 5,000 cases a week even if vaccination rate hits 90 per cent'. Subscribe