Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries have had widely different approaches to handling the pandemic. One country, in particular, New Zealand, took a cautious approach against the virus from the very beginning. New Zealand received its first Covid case early in 2020 and took swift action. The country called for mandatory quarantines for all visitors and then later extended this to a nationwide lockdown. These restrictions were considered the strictest in the world at the time that they were implemented (read New Zealand vs Global Pandemic: Did New Zealand Already win? for more on this). Recently, New Zealand has begun to ease their Covid restrictions
Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city, containing about a third of the country’s population. Malls and other outlets have opened up along with libraries, museums, and zoos. Visitors at these establishments will not be required to be vaccinated but mask mandates and social distancing will still be implemented. In addition to this, up to 25 people will be able to attend outdoor events such as weddings and funerals. Auckland initiated a lockdown on August 17th after a case of the highly contagious Delta variant entered the city, leading to an outbreak. New Zealand had been enjoying a Zero-Covid strategy until this point. The timing of the easing of these restrictions comes at a time when the country has had the highest amount of daily cases reported since the beginning of the pandemic. Why start easing restrictions now?
The easing of these restrictions is likely due to an increase in the number of eligible individuals who have received the vaccine. About 90% of eligible New Zealanders have received their first dose while about 84% have received their second dose. The target of a 90% full vaccinated rate is currently estimated to be achieved by November 29th. Government officials in New Zealand hope that once this point has been reached, the country can implement a new system of restrictions, rather than lockdowns.
While the vaccination rates seem to be on the rise, this is not true for all of the population. Indigenous groups including the Māori and Pacific Islanders have lower vaccination rates. These two groups make about one-fourth of the population, but three-quarters of the cases. Compared to other New Zealanders, the indigenous populations have higher poverty rates and generally live in large families, which means the virus can spread easily. The easing of these Covid restrictions has the potential to negatively impact these indigenous groups.
As stated before, there have been many different approaches taken by many different countries worldwide to combat this ongoing pandemic. There is no one size fits all approach to handling the COVID-19 pandemic. Coming up with a viable vaccine has definitely helped to protect many against the virus. While there is a vaccine, there are still cases and, thus, it is important that people remain cautious and follow all guidelines in places such as the mask mandate, social distancing, and group gathering restrictions in New Zealand. The Covid situation is far from stagnant and leaders all over the world still have many important decisions to make.