Seven weeks into a lockdown that has so far failed to quelch the COVID resurgence (an extremely mild outbreak, by international standards), while causing untold economic strain throughout Auckland, New Zealand's economic center and most populous city.
So, as the crowds protesting against the lockdowns in the Auckland's streets have intensified, threatening to boil over into the heightened level of unrest presently roiling its neighbor, Australia, it looks like New Zealand's progressive government, led by PM Jacinda Ardern, has finally thrown in the towel, and by doing so, abandoned its "COVIDZero", just as Australia has started to do.
According to the AP, New Zealand's government has finally acknowledged on Monday that it can longer completely eradicate the coronavirus - a realization that the US, Europe and most other nations (outside China) have already accepted.
In keeping with this new perspective, Ardern announced a "cautious" plan to ease lockdown restrictions in Auckland, despite an outbreak there that continues to simmer, and - more importantly - abandon the guiding COVID policy that has been in place for 18 months.
"We’re transitioning from our current strategy into a new way of doing things," Ms. Ardern told reporters. "With Delta, the return to zero is incredibly difficult, and our restrictions alone are not enough to achieve that quickly. In fact, for this outbreak, it’s clear that long periods of heavy restrictions has not got us to zero cases."
"What we have called a long tail,” she added, "feels more like a tentacle that has been incredibly hard to shake."
As the AP reminds us, New Zealand was once heralded as one of the world's great COVID successes (to this day, it has only recorded 27 deaths). But after declaring that COVID was effectively eradicated last year, the delta wave that emerged this spring managed to force its way back in. At this point, some critics say Ardern and the local leadership in Auckland may have overreacted, imposing the lockdown after only a single case had been identified (and before its strain had been genetically analyzed).
Like Australia, closed borders has been another major part of New Zealand's "COVID Zero" approach. If Ardern means what she says, these restrictions should soon be allowed to loosen.
With NZ done, the last major COVID holdout is...China. But we somehow suspect their "war-like" strategy of dealing with outbreaks isn't going to change any time soon.